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Sustain / Local Action on Food

Cooking food

Much of the food we eat will be cooked or processed first, so acquiring good cooking skills are essential to prepare tasty and good quality food. Understanding ingredients and how they go together gives us opportunities to decide what we eat, how much we spend on food, and this influences the well-being of the people we cook for. For many cooking is an important part of daily life, and exploring different preparation, culinary and storage techniques adds to a deeper appreciation and awareness of where food comes from and also how to plan meals to maximise the best from the ingredients and minimise food waste.

Cooking foodCookery skills and training

Cookery groups aim to improve people's skills to prepare meals, as well as providing a sociable place to learn and be inspired by good food. Community Chef in East Sussex is one such project. It runs cookery skills training for schools, community groups, government organisations and primary care trusts.

Cookery groups aim to improve people's skills to prepare meals, as well as providing a sociable place to learn and be inspired by good food. is one such project. It runs cookery skills training for schools, community groups, government organisations and primary care trusts.

Community cafés are often set up to provide those working or volunteering in the kitchen with catering skills, as well as providing affordable, sustainable and healthy meals for the local community. The Whole Baked café in Bristol is one example of a café that serves healthy and low-cost meals whilst working to train staff with learning difficulties and offer them a professional qualification. Another example is the community café programme established in Sandwell.

Initiatives have also been established to re-skill staff in the public sector (schools, hospitals, local authorities) that have lost valuable skills due to the use of bought-in, ready-made foods. There are also numerous initiatives run to train staff working in public sector institutions, for example The Good Food Training programme run by Greenwich Co-operative Development Agency in London, and developed in partnership with Sustain. The Jamie Oliver school dinner campaign has also drawn widespread attention to this issue and is working to re-skill school cooks. The Soil Association's Food for Life programme also sets standards for schools to aspire to, giving awards to those working to improve school dinners to an agreed standard.

Waitress at the Duke of CambridgeRestaurants and cafés 

Eateries such as restaurants and cafés are able to contribute to the local economy, support local producers, and create jobs for skilled workers. More and more restaurants and catering businesses are cooking seasonal British menus using local and/or ingredients. Organisations such as the Sustainable Restaurant Association and Sustain’s Ethical Eats project work with restaurants and caterers to help them improve their sourcing and also tackle other aspects such as waste, water and electricity use and packaging.

The Green House restaurant in Tring and The Happy Kitchen in Hackney are enterprises that embed sustainable food principles into the food they cook. The Harvest Café in Nottingham also shows the value that a cooking enterprise can add to a community food project.

 Processing food 

Processing food is creating a product and adding value on to the ingredients, usually through cooking it, for example jam making, home baking or beer brewing and is often an enterprise that starts in someone's own kitchen. For example, The Taste of Freedom project takes leftover fruit that it classes as not fit for sale and transforms it into smoothies and ice cream that they then sell. The Abundance project in Sheffield also processes harvested fruit from fruit trees all over the city.  Some of the National Trust's properties also process a lot of their own products at  around the county.

Case Studies

The Whole Baked café in Bristol is part of CSV Avon Training and has been cooking and serving food in Bristol since 1988.  The café sells healthy and affordable food but also creates vocational training opportunities for people with learning difficulties.  They also run an outside catering service. The café is supported by the local social services department and works in partnership with City of Bristol college. Qualifications include"Working in Catering: A Practical Introduction".  Participants in the programme attend for two days each week and can achieve the Foundation Food Hygiene Certificate, the City & Guilds Entry Level Certificate in Skills for Working Life, and OCR Entry level qualifications in Numeracy and Literacy. See:

The Eat well project in Sandwell is a healthy eating campaign in Sandwell. They run five community cafes which aim to improve the diet of the local community. They run cookery and food activities with school children, shopkeepers and work with community groups.  Their menus are assessed with help from a catering consultants.   To develop their standard menu around 400 samples were tested. Cafe staff are also trained to facilitate Eatwell activities, e.g Slimwell and Cookwell  which are two other projects from the campaign.  Each cafe is setting up Eatwell activities that suit their community and cafes needs.

The Green House Restaurant in Tring has become the first restaurant in the country to be awarded ‘Three Star Sustainability Champion’ status by the Sustainable Restaurants Association members are assessed based on their level of commitment to sustainability in the key areas of sourcing, environment and society. The Green House's champion status is down to its inspiring dedication to sustainability across the full restaurant operation.  The vegetarian menu is seasonal and organic and some produce is grown on site in the kitchen garden.  Waste is composted and used in the kitchen garden following what owner David Metcalfe describes as a "plot to plate and plate to plot" cycle. Toilets are flushed with rain water and they have a green energy supplier. "It makes good business sense to be sustainable", says owner David Metcalfe, "energy efficiency and waste reduction keeps our costs down". The Green House will proudly display its three star badge in the restaurant window - a guarantee for discerning diners that this is a restaurant dedicated to sustainable practices. An increasing number of restaurants are winning 1, 2 and now 3 star status - keep an eye out for the gold star in the window of a restaurant near you.  Unfortunately due to economic reasons the Green House Restaurant closed in December 2010, but will hopefully reopen in spring 2011.

The Happy Kitchen in London is a catering and wholesaler enterprise based in East London that specialises in baked goods. They challenge a traditional diet creating healthy cakes and dishes that are full of organic ingredients from small and local eco-friendly growers without the consumption of many food miles. Their source is also from systems that minimise damage to the planet as well as climate change and their impact of animals in the planet.  The source of ingredients can vary from ground linseed and linseed oil from West Sussex, to organic cocoa from Ecuador delivered by boat. They are established as a social enterprise meaning that the money they make from The Happy Kitchen is either donated to the charity Action Against Hunger or used to run sustainable food education programmes in primary schools.

The Harvest Café at Ecoworks in Nottingham is part of the Ecoworks community organisation in Nottingham.  Their commitment is to help people to have a healthier diet eating the fruit and vegetables grown in their own allotments of Ecoworks.  The Harvest Café moves around Nottinghamshire and beyond with their Citroen H van converted for catering. Usually it is found in community open days and other local events and festivals. On their menu are a wide range of vegetarian food such as vegetable curries, salads and various dishes with rice are offered. Healthy eating and cooking workshop events are also run by the Café focusing on skilling local unemployed people.

Abundance applesAbundance Sheffield is a creative project that works to harvest the glut of local fruit growing in Sheffield and works with the local community to harvest and redistribute the surplus to community cafes and other local projects.  The group have also processed some of the excess fruit to create jams and chutneys which are on sale. We caught up with Tom James who is running the chutney project for Abundance Sheffield.

Q: Where did you get the jars and kitchen space?
The kitchen space comes from a variety of different people! This year, we're using the kitchen at Heeley City Farm Cafe; the kitchen at the old junior school in Sharrow, where lots of community projects (including ours) are based; and two domestic kitchens in another part of Sheffield called Crookes. You can use any kitchen really, as long as it's registered with the relevant food safety department of your local council. The workshop leader will also need a hygiene certificate.

The jars were a bit more tricky. We made the conscious decision that we wanted to reuse jars, rather than buy new, as it's much more sustainable, and also makes them look interesting when they're all lined up! However, this makes for a lot more work. First you have to call out to people to donate their jars, then collect them, then clean them and get the labels off. Then of course you have to sterilise them. However, once they're all cleaned and ready, it's worth it.

Q: Who helped with the fruit processing?
Each workshop is run by two people from our organisation, one of whom will have a hygiene certificate. We invite The General Public to come and volunteer to help us make the chutney: they get a jar to take home, learn how to do it, and have lots of chutney based fun. Then there's all the people who helped us pick the fruit in the first place. It's a team effort.

Q: How are sales going?
Well! Last year, we tried to sell the chutney in shops, at a few of our own events, all over the place. It was confusing, and made even more so because we didn't check with Trading Standards first: turns out there are lots and lots and lots of rules about what has to be on the labels! This year, we decided to just sell the chutney direct at farmers markets (where the regulations are a little bit less stringent). We had our first one on Saturday, and sold 100 jars!

Q: Will you do it again?
Yes. It's good fun, great to get people involved, and the chutney tastes amazing! It's a simple idea, but the product we get out of it is really 100% sustainable: fruit from our communities, made into chutney in our neighbourhoods, using reclaimed jars. It's perfect.

The only other thing to say is about the labels. I worked with a talented designer (Jon Cannon) to design the labels. We wanted to really push how local this fruit was: not just from Sheffield, but from this bit of Sheffield, from this street. Super local. It really helps, if you're going to sell it, to make it look amazing. Oh, and please tell your readers: ask trading standards first!

For more information, visit the Abundance Sheffield website at: 

Local Action on Food: The Local Action on Food network was run as part of the Big Lottery funded Making Local Food Work programme, 2007 to 2012. It has now closed.

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Sustain advocates food and agriculture policies and practices that enhance the health and welfare of people and animals, improve the working and living environment, promote equity and enrich society and culture.

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