Food for thought: serving meals for all in Leeds
Words by Lauren Entwistle
Having a decent meal is something that we often take for granted. Certainly by today’s standards, we’d expect to tuck into at least one hot dish a day – but for some, especially schoolchildren from poorer backgrounds, it simply isn’t feasible. However, The Real Junk Food Project in association with Fuel for School is here to help make that reality history.
The project will be opening the world’s first pay-as-you-feel vegan/vegetarian sharehouse/restaurant, using only surplus food, from Monday 31st July and until Monday 4th September in The Light, Leeds.
The Real Junk Food Project is a revolutionary concept designed to challenge and highlight the issues of food waste while creating inclusive environments where everyone is welcome. Consisting of cafés, outside catering, events, Sharehouse’s and Fuel for School, TRJFP use the Pay As You Feel Concept to utilise surplus food, educate the general public and campaign against global issues that food waste creates.
The work of The Real Junk Food Project, including the delivery of Fuel for School, was recognised at the prestigious 2017 Fortnum and Mason Food and Drink Awards, selected as “The “Judges’ Choice Award.”
But with all these accolades, where does Fuel for School come in all this? And what exactly is this initiative?
Nathan Atkinson is a trustee of the project and the headmaster of Richmond Hill Primary School. Atkinson had only been in post as headteacher for half a term when the idea of the project came to him – in the form of one particularly stressful day.
“Everything that could go wrong had gone wrong,” He said. “It was a Monday, the first day back after the October half term break and the gas in the kitchens failed, resulting in us having to give the children salad and sandwiches for dinner.”
During the afternoon, the negative behaviour of a number of the school’s most vulnerable children was brought to his attention. When talking to these children it became clear that their anger and frustrations stemmed from lunchtime and the lack of a hot meal.
“One child informed me that he had been looking forward to coming back to school and that the first day back meant that a roast would be on the menu, but all we had served were sandwiches and salad. He continued to tell me that for the previous week he hadn’t eaten anything but sandwiches and the occasional packet of crisps or dry cereal.”
Evidence shows that a high percentage of children attend school each day without breakfast, with the two most common factors being poverty and unconscious neglect. This ends up affecting concentration, energy levels, attentiveness and emotional wellbeing – with prolonged hunger resulting in children working below age related expectations.
Armed with this new knowledge, Nathan took to arming Richmond Hill Primary with all the tools it needed to feed everyone – in particular his poorer students. By supplying all children with a breakfast each morning, opening a café in the school (which is opened to the community every Monday and Friday) and creating a market stall at the school gates, everyone has access to healthy and filling meals.
Amazingly, Richmond Hill doesn’t pay a penny the food that is used for these initiatives. By intercepting food on its way to landfill from supermarkets, wholesalers and independent retailers and working in partnership with The Real Junk Food Project, the vast amounts of food that goes to waste are successfully diverted into the school.
The project has now extended to help bridge the gap created when the term time ends and the holidays begin. Fuel for School is a year round programme that has now expanded beyond Leeds and almost 60 schools now benefit from deliveries available 52 weeks a year. These deliveries of food, coupled with the creativity of school leadership and access to school sites provides the ideal environment for ensuring children are nourished all year round.
If you’re interested in the work of both projects, or want to make sure you’re doing a good deed – head down to the light before the 4th of September and treat yourself or someone else to a meal with a difference.
For more information, go to: fuelforschool.info