Urban Food Heroes
Ahead of the launch of London Food Link’s new Urban Food Map, we put out a call to find people and organisations doing great things around food. Dylan Lowe serves up a taster of some of the first 50 we found…
Founded by our cover star, Kemi Akinola, this charitable organisation is dedicated to building and supporting communities in south London and Glasgow. They have created community canteens in Tooting, Battersea, Brixton, and Elephant and Castle that deliver safe havens for local people to congregate and communicate over nutritious meals. These kitchens also generate opportunities for disadvantaged youngsters and other local people, with results including helping to reduce reoffending rates.
While a stalwart in the London world of pop-up dining and Urban Food Fortnight, Crayfish Bob’s moniker doesn’t even begin to encompass his contribution towards Britain’s waterways. Identifying the environmental impact of the invasive American Signal Crayfish, now overpopulating UK waters and threatening native aquatic species, Bob Ring set up Crayaway in 2003 to responsibly trap and remove them. Customers range from embassies to the otters at London Zoo. As Crayfish Bob, he has gone on to host a succession of pop-up events, transforming the critters from ecological nuisances to desirable delicacies.
This organistaion is addressing the acute issue of homelessness in London one cup of coffee at a time. Operating and pulling espresso shots out of the back of their minivans, Change Please is mobilising rough sleepers by mentoring them in the art of coffee making, offering them the London Living Wage, support with housing and mental wellbeing, as well as career prospects as trained baristas. Beyond selling coffee, Change Please is raising awareness about homelessness by putting a face, name and personal story to each of their trainees as they interact with their customers.
This social enterprise catering business tackles a common problem with a unique scheme: employing young Londoners in temporary accommodation and helping them to move towards independent living. With Fat Macy’s housing deposit scheme, trainees receive their hourly salaries in the form of accumulative credits paid into a secure fund, until they have saved enough to afford a deposit that is then paid directly to a landlord of their choice. All the while they garner “vital skills for independent living: food hygiene, cooking, financial planning, curating and running events, and practical work experience.”
Nadia and Nick’s eatery has evolved from a street food stall into one of the leading sustainable food businesses in London. Influenced by Cypriot and east Mediterranean recipes from Nadia’s childhood, they cook with the eponymous meat, food often treated as a by-product and so goes to waste, as a means to support the goat dairy industry. Now operating in a permanent site at Borough Market, they also help businesses and other organisations develop their sustainable practices: focusing on more vegetables and better meats; sourcing sustainable ingredients from local suppliers; minimising waste; and promoting sustainable and healthy eating.
Far too much fresh and perfectly edible produce is discarded before even making it to the shelf simply because it is misshapen, the ‘wrong’ size or blemished. Some 30% of vegetables and fruits in the UK ends up uneaten due to this fixation on cosmetic appeal, both on the part of retailers and customers. Oddbox strives to reverse this, and the staggering food waste as a result, by offering these ‘odd’ goods, sourced from local growers seasonally and at a fair price, to willing consumers at discount. Some of both its proceeds and salvaged produce are donated to charities working to tackle the effects of food poverty.
As a reactionary initiative to help women who are socially and economically disadvantaged, Luminary Bakery provides them with training, work experience and employment at its bakery café in Stoke Newington. The training programme steers participants towards employability and entrepreneurship. Their establishment generates a safe and supportive working environment for women in need, allowing them to grow holistically and fostering their future prospects – as well as overcoming their “the generational cycle of abuse, prostitution, criminal activity and poverty.” See feature on pages X-Y. [might need to cut this for space]
The London-based tea company with a mission beyond selling brews: to instigate equal employment opportunities for, in particular, refugees in the UK. Whereas refugees and economic migrants are most prone to marginalisation due to the involuntary change of living conditions and inability to communicate, Nemi hires people in these situation in order to boost their English proficiency, confidence and professional skills in order to facilitate their integration into society and the job market. Advocating for improved working conditions all the way to the source of the supply chain, they are firm supporters of the Fairtrade movement.
As part of Crystal Palace Transition Town, this initiative strives to provide an affordable supply of traceable, healthy and delicious local food. As its name suggests, this enterprise comprises a network of landshare gardens, including a bus station herb patch and museum grounds orchard, allotments and food-growing backyards in and around Crystal Palace. As well as harvesting and selling its own produce at the Crystal Palace Food Market, other local growers are invited to donate or swap their surplus vegetables and fruits at the farm’s weekly stall.
Spurred by the stories of women fleeing the conflict in Sri Lanka and the desire to help them break out of their ‘isolation and sense of loss,’ this social enterprise employs women relocated from there and South India. Using recipes from that region, Papi’s Pickles offers trainees London Living Wage, food safety certification and work experience at pop-ups, street food markets and other events, helping fourteen long-term unemployed women gain new leases in life since August 2014.
This feature first appeared in The Jellied Eel magazine issue 56, February 2018