George Shackleton tells us why he loved getting into the kitchen and cooking food for the homeless at St Mungo’s hostel in London.
Food Not Bombs is a small group of volunteers who collect high-quality food, which would otherwise be thrown away by businesses, and supply it for free to a homeless hostel. We collect the food, prepare it, cook it and serve it in St Mungo’s hostel in New Cross every Monday and Wednesday.
When I first heard about the group, I was intrigued. And, after a little research into food waste, I discovered that half of all the food in the UK is thrown away. I have always been a bit of a ‘foodie’, and never a fan of waste. So to hear that, as a nation, we waste so much food was a bit sickening. Could I make a difference, just by volunteering my time every now and then?
When I first went to a cooking session, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Was I about to find myself in a kitchen with a bunch of wannabe Gordon Ramseys? Would I be expected to scrub pans all night if my cooking wasn’t up to scratch? And what would the residents who lived in the hostel make of me?
My worries were quickly put to bed upon arrival: instead of unnecessary amounts of swearing and ego, I found myself in a kitchen with a bunch of beaming peers, chatting and industriously preparing lovely food. As a group, there are no leaders or hierarchy: everyone’s opinion is valid. If you fancy making a curry one week, go for it! Fancy having a go at making a banana cake? Knock yourself out! And, at the end of the day, this food was going to be thrown away, so there really is nothing to lose.
We do make a bit of a higgledy-piggledy bunch, I must admit, but that’s all part of the fun. Getting to know everyone week by week is why I keep coming back. And that doesn’t end with the volunteers; I include the residents and the staff at the hostel as part of our bunch.
What makes the group work so well is that people can come and go as they please. Some volunteers are fleeting and make only a couple of appearances before disappearing into the wilderness. Others, however, have been turning up almost religiously, and it’s these hardy few that keep the group ticking over.
I really enjoy turning up every week, seeing who is there, what food we’ve cobbled together and sometimes even learning a few new recipes along the way. I had never even seen a Romanesco cauliflower before, for instance, never mind discussed how best to utilise its fractal geometry in a stir-fry!
We may get a few disparaging looks from a couple of residents when they realise all the food is entirely veggie. And we may occasionally have a nose turned up in our general direction when we offer up our lovingly prepared celeriac, parsnip and apple soup (which, by the way, was delicious), but this doesn’t dampen the experience at all. Ultimately, it’s more about having fun and meeting people with common interests than anything else. And if by some chance you end up with a free meal by doing something you love, then you can count me in!
Has this got you inspired to volunteer in a soup kitchen this Christmas? Visit the Volunteering section of Charity Choice and charities can get in touch with opportunities for you!
You can also donate to St Mungo's to help them continue in their work.