When the going gets tough, the tough get asking the Universe for help. Lots of emails, lots of apples, lots of courgettes, lots of unaccompanied kids, lots of pot washing. Stuff is piling up. Family Cafe project has grown in fits and starts and is still wending its way from being a plucky idea about how things could be somewhat sorted in a situation of food insanity, towards becoming a real social movement about how to do food better nowadays.
At the project outset....'That looks like rather a big hill in front of me and a long route towards its summit. But I've made a flask of strong tea and some granola bars. Onwards! Clomp, clomp, clomp. Phewee!.... (wipes brow demurely) It looks so much nearer in real life doesn't it? I'm actually getting a bit tired now and that tea doesn't stay that hot after a few cups does it? Seem to have munched my way through that scoff as well.... I think I need some help here...'
That feels like the journey so far. Don't get me wrong. There is a passionate, beautiful, brilliant bunch of co-workers, volunteers, well-wishers and funders to help me. I'm not really alone and never have been. It's much more than me and it couldn't have gotten this far without us all. But in my mind I suppose I hold the vision for something that I'm trying to manifest. I see how things can be and I'm reaching towards that. I'm lucky that people seem to instinctively 'get' what Family Cafe is all about and they have gladly come on board and pushed me towards that summit. However, I hold sway over the budget, I did the form-filling, I sorted the insurance, I chose the colour.... It's my project if it doesn't succeed (and it's everyone's if it does). I worry about not getting it done, or getting it right, about creating work for myself and my co-workers, about engagement, about hungry kids, leftovers, burnt things, the emails, the courgettes and the apples. Sometimes it feels like I'm down to the last granola bar... Cue the mournful bellow of some sort of ram's horn bugle through the misty mountain pass...)
That's when I woman-up and send out a plea. To those of you that have witnessed the foghorn voice booming out demands from the kitchen for washer-up'ers or chair stackers, this might sound familiar but I'm talking about the silent one that I do when in overwhelm. I take a good look at all the wonderful things our project is managing to do on 1.5 paid staff who earn £8.50 per hour, in a weeny end of Sneinton with no footfall, using food that some quarters have consigned to the skip, with a little budget of under £30,000 for a whole year and with a frankly brilliant team of volunteers and eaters... And we've got so far to get up this hill to try and show the world what we can do to feed people by simply getting them together over a shared pot of scoff. We are so passionate about social eating as a really simple and effective way to make sure we really look after our precious food resources, to reclaim space for socialising, to empower each other over a shared meal, to simply have a good knees up and a bit of a scoff... I've got a vision but I can't do it all and I know no one is expecting me to do it all and, and, and.....
And I say UNIVERSE! (and beyond) HELP ME! I NEED SOME ASSISTANCE! please send help, send support, send inspiration, send someone nice in a plaid shirt with a beard who can play the drums, send the right people at the right time, animal, mineral or vegetable... HELP!
And it shows up doesn't it? If you have eyes to see, ears to hear, a heart to feel, that help shows up every time. As I've said, I'm never really on my own with the stress. Yes indeed, I create it, but I really feel like that primal howl echoed across the mountain range and was picked up and responded to. I am absolutely humbled to have our project chosen for the first Good For Nothing, Nottingham. It seems they were just on the other side of that misty mountain top heading towards that shared summit of true social betterment...
What an immense pleasure to be reminded of what a great idea we have in Family Cafe and how we are all helping to manifest it; how there is so much good and so many good people who are dedicated to just making stuff better for us all.... What a great relief from the worry of running the project and holding that vision to get an invitation to dream for help without strings- a 'what can we do to help you? A Good For Nothing shout out event where I get to dream up a brief and have a Family Cafe tribe emerge from the Universe to make that happen. Big Loves. Big Wowsers. Not sure what'll happen, and how it will all look but our Family Cafe crew have been chosen for a hack and that feels mighty good.
Big mountain, well on the way towards the top.... It's like we've been handed some Kendall Mint Cake and someone's found a stash of Yorkshire Teabags...
When we get there you'll know about it and in the meantime please follow us at @GFNNottingham and @secretkitchlady
Picture by Dan McCarthy
http://www.danmccarthy.org/ (Dan please don't sue me, I have actual prints of yours hanging on my wall, just not this one. I love you and thanks for reading this blog)
The opinions I give here are my own and represent only me, as The Secret Kitchen but not necessarily as The Family Cafe project as we have a Board and other staff who might well disagree with what I'm about to write...
Food banks aren't sustainable. Go to any one of them and pick up the energy of people pedalling madly trying to keep up with a huge increase in demand. Food banks like St Ann's try to solve the problem by challenging benefit sanctions and sorting out the reasons why people may have no money left for food that week. They are attempting to go back towards the source of the problem but they can only do so much. We are living in the midst of a crisis around who we are, how we eat, how we consume and how we empower ourselves to change, and food poverty and food banks are the manifestation of that. Food poverty is a state of mind as much as an economic reality.
My issue with food banks is that we are attempting to mitigate the damage done further upstream by giving vulnerable people free food. People end up being referred to food banks because they are in crisis. That crisis isn't just about food, it's the crisis of our whole society where we have people actually struggling to feed themselves. Step back from this for a moment and just scratch your head and wonder how the hell a developed nation with an astonishing array of technology, science and ability has members of its own, scrabbling around looking for food? How it is that we have children who are literally starving, malnourished and stunted and how we have people rotting away in our very midst for want of love and sustenance?
What the hell has happened here? How are we living like this? I believe it's because poverty is a market. It's attempted relief sucks vast sums of public money but like the diet or pharmaceutical systems, a cure doesn't make money. For all the incredible people out there working so, so hard to help people, it's frustrating. Follow the money upstream to see the few yet very influential number of groups who we pay to solve the problems that the other companies they own create. Consuming, competitive, corrupt capitalism needs to be starved to death; it's the system that needs to be packed off with some noodles and a tin of carrots. We need to turn our back on this sham edifice where food poverty is an intended consequence of political policy.
Food banks don't work. They feed people in crisis but they don't work. Follow the problem upstream to our core social values as espoused by our current form of government. Lack, scarcity, competition: these are the issues that food banks can never be a solution to. I don't think food banks are pretending to be the solution. We all know that they are a stop gap that has arisen because of an austerity ideology that has degraded our very humanity. People presenting in food poverty suffer from the wider impoverishment of food; its commodification. They might suffer from a lack of food knowledge, or a lack of food capital, and a scarcity of available resources because of a system that over inflates the price and simultaneously degrades the incredible food resources our planet gifts us. Food banks don't work because this austerity ideology needs victims, it needs people for Michael Gove to blame. Food banks are even worse than that in my mind because its another market for the very organisations that are causing the problem. You go to the supermarket and you BUY a few more items to donate to the food bank. These supermarkets and corporate food producers have managed to make a market out of food crisis.
So, rant over. What next? Well firstly see through the headlines designed to get you angry. Peek through the bushes and notice how many amazing food initiatives are springing up. Loads of fantastic people sowing, growing, mowing, making, baking, jamming, pickling and preserving. So many great cooks who can magic a mega pan of something good out of a few ingredients. All those people who are buying into a relocalisation of the food economy as they see the benefits. The attempts at reintroducing wholesale in this country, the move towards people growing their own food. These solutions were already there; we are already able to turn this around because we already have the skills and resources to up our food game. The edifice is crumbling away and the corporate food theme park is looking shabby. I don't want to go there anymore; I want to participate in a celebration of food and an appreciation of our incredible planet's abundant resources, and trade with those people and groups who get that, and indeed the corporations that are looking to change for social betterment.
But what about those people who are so far down the food helter skelter that they will struggle to stop the downward tumble? Social eating spaces. Spaces where you can come and enjoy a meal for whatever you have in your pocket or where you can volunteer in return for a meal. Not soup kitchens, not places where everyone's skint and its miserable, not a place where you wash up because you are simply desperate. A social eating space; a warm, welcoming, homely, inclusive place to sit and eat. Fulfil your human need for nourishment. Tackle food waste and cycle your excess produce in return for a meal. I don't think it's any coincidence that we have presided over a massive reduction in the spaces where people can be social; these are spaces where people become empowered and share ideas. I truly believe that long term social eating spaces are places where people can be supported, offer support, see positive modelling, ask questions and be educated around food, become food-active and simply nourish themselves. Engagement with vulnerable, defensive, distrustful people takes time but it's a worthwhile investment. In the meantime there are lots of people who simply enjoy social eating and there is room around the table for everybody. Social eating spaces are sustainable and they make sense. Imagine a city with a social eating joint in every area? Even if we don't have cafe's using surplus, it's still pretty cheap to make a big pan of something good and share it. Just participate and show up at your social eating space and put your contribution in the bucket! It's not the solution to everything but it's a start. See you there....
In my last post on this subject I gave a bit of a lurid potted history of my employment journey so far and ended by saying that by simply deciding in my early twenties that 1) I wasn't going to work in a factory any more and 2) I was going to choose to work less and enjoy my time more.
As it happened I started to get better paid, part time work. I still worked hard but I enjoyed it more. I had time to potter, bike ride, skip-rat and make things. I applied for jobs that I wanted to do. I liked being supportive so I started to work with students as a note-taker, I worked in the homeless sector, I did one on one support work in people's homes; I began to see how enjoying my work and trying to help others was a great way to work.
It was better working and it was working better for me...
I bankrupted myself aged about 25 and wrote off all the debts including my student loan, that I'd accumulated during my studies. I had no credit card and no access to credit, I was told I'd ruin my future but I knew that was a lie. I had started to see how I could choose to forgo what seemed like the benefits of a disposable income, a mortgage, new, shiny things in order to access the benefits of something far more fundamental- freedom and living within my means and under my own direction.
Cue a few years forwards and my bankruptcy was annulled. I knew this day had arrived because I got a credit card application through the post! I'd managed to survive on my earnings and the generosity of my family and was an expert on lentil-living, potato-based diets, cheap wine and burning smashed up pallets for firewood... In the meantime I'd been working part time back at Uni teaching, I'd had a baby and I was living as a single parent with a Masters in Philosophy and a desire to move away from teaching. I re-trained as a therapist and had a few Michael Jackson years believing I could heal the world before admitting to myself that I was the one with problems. Lots of depressive periods, lots of personally orchestrated disasters which were my necessary learnings, lots of personal pain and suffering and lots of growth and development. I emerged several years later harder, better, faster, stronger and with a real commitment and love for effective community work. This was built upon an understanding of the real need for self enquiry; walk the walk as well as talk the talk if you want to be effective.
So now I had a few things in place for me to make my next better work step. The catalyst for change began with the birth of my daughter and freedom for the modern indenture of debt and a desire to dig deep were the steps forward from that catalyst. At that point I'd realised that I could work better, work less hours, do things that were interesting and useful. But I still hadn't quite 'got it'. I still hadn't twigged that Life wants us to be happy, Life wants us to be fulfilled, Life wants us to follow our heroic probability and be most excellent. Life wants us to live!
I was working with refugees and still part-time teaching and wondering where to go next when life took a brilliant turn and I was made redundant. This seemed like an awful thing at the time and I panicked about what i was going to do. My brilliant Mum simply suggested that if possible, I should take the Summer off with my daughter and think about 1) what I liked doing and 2) what I was good at....
I really hope you ask yourself this at least once in a lifetime...and if you haven't then please feel free to do so...
Beginning the Summer holidays knowing I had 6 whole weeks of no work was amazebombs. I went walking in the woods with my daughter and niece, cycling about, baking, gardening, reading, uber-pottering and attending every car boot sale I could. I relaxed, my body relaxed. I had time to really think about what I wanted to do... Giving myself permission to do that was a fundamental step.
I decided wanted to work with soldiers suffering from post-traumatic stress. I'd been volunteering for a military charity and had found it very satisfying. It seemed like a good thing to do. People and connections seemed to appear and I attempted to manifest the next stage of my work life. It didn't work. I couldn't get anywhere. I was pushing but not moving forwards. This culminated in what I thought at the time, was a dream job working on a helpline for soldiers. I prepped, I studied, I wrote a great application and I was invited for interview. I turned up for the interview A WEEK LATE! I totally and utterly sabotaged my chance at this 'dream' job. I was gutted and went into total self-punishment mindset. I was stupid, disorganised, useless, chaotic and untrustworthy. I had a calendar with June and July stuck together so had written the interview date down onto the wrong month. Had I been a bit more aware at the time, I'd have noticed the signs that my intention wasn't the right one. Instead I pushed on and created yet another learning for myself. Painful as it was I righted myself emotionally and mentally and wondered what I should do given that I really needed to get back to work and earn a living.
Another shift came when a friend emailed me a work-wheel exercise. I should look at what I loved doing, in what circumstances, in what situation and in as much detail as possible. I should jot down on a big piece of paper my optimal states and happiest ways of being and then intend that something would come forwards. I should also write on the sheet
'All this and more comes to me with ease, harming none and with the highest intention for all...All that is not in my highest interest falls away with ease'.... How helpful I found that last bit of the statement given my recent humiliation...
On the sheet I had written 'riding my bike and walking in nature..... looking in skips and going to car boot sales, vintage things, blackberrying, making chutney, serving others and feeling appreciation, working a busy but satisfying week, inspiring people, being inspired by people, working as a productive team, stuff that's not too formal, having fun, listening to Radio 6 and earning enough money to be able to do what needs doing, a job where I am always learning and a job that makes a difference somehow.....'
Well who the hell is going to pay me for riding a bike, looking in skips and picking blackberries!? Ye Gods, what kind of job description would that be?! (Notice that money never really came into the picture?) Well, I let those thoughts about what was possible and impossible arise. I stuck my sheet on the bedroom wall and I looked at it and just decided to stick with the feelings of how much I enjoy myself when I do these things and left it at that. About 2 months later a chance conversation about something else led to someone asking me to set up a cafe. I'd been doing a fair bit of community cooking as a volunteer but it had never occurred to me set up a cafe. Within 3 months of that conversation The Secret Kitchen opened its doors....
Next post I'll write a bit about how I actually started the cafe, what principles I stuck to, how I was tested on these and where things led.
It's a bit like Jason and the Argonauts but with pies, scalding flows of chutney and incinerated vegetables... stay tuned for the next thrilling episode...
Wowsers, I love it when a plan comes together. Here is a super-easy summer recipe that has lots of nutritious ingredients but comes together to taste far more decadent than it should.
Take a packet of oatcakes and blitz them down with a bag of pecans and half a pack of butter, press into a tin and chill, then bake until golden.
Then blend a couple of packs of ricotta with a couple of packs of crumbly goats cheese, some fresh herbs and season, then add 4 eggs until it resembles a thick batter and then pour on top of the base and bake in a medium hot oven until it is brown on top, slightly set but still wobbly.
Take out and allow to cool slightly before devouring. We had ours with chutney and an avocado, cucumber and parsley salad. (This recipe was adapted from the one on http://twinnydip.blogspot.co.uk/ ) I will be making another one of these but with walnuts in the base and blue cheese instead of goat's cheese. Another winner might be an almond base with feta and mint and an juicy olive and roasted tomato salad. Expect more photos of savoury cheesecakes to follow...
I have also been talking to Philip Cambell (@philcampbell) about his new venture: http://thepistreet.com/ which is a brilliant idea developing social signage into a storytelling medium that connects local independent stores to their customers and to each other. The basic idea is that the strength of local independents is their stories and their relationships with customers, and the pistreet project shows us a way to strengthen and develop these things using technology in the form of social signage screens. We are super excited about this project and can totally see how this would work in the Family Cafe setting, so please have a look on his site to find out more.
Let me hit you some stats for May. We have been very busy and there have been tears, laughter, disasters and triumphs all in the space of a month. The reality of leading a new project has been an interesting one and I have learned rather a lot!
So what have we found out? That people love to eat socially and affordably and that they want to get involved in social eating projects. Here are our figures:
Days open in May: 16
Adult meals: 357
Kids meals: 228
A total of 558 meals served (blimey!!) and a total of £667.62 donated.
Our expected food bill for the year is under £2000 so you can see that very easily we cover our core food cost. The other money donated in will be directed towards other costs such as rent and insurance, advertising and equipment. This looks to be a really robust model that is sustainable. We will continue to seek funding to cover staff costs but other than that, we have shown in one month what a great project can deliver, and we are only in phase one getting things started.
It works, it works, it works!
Thanks for coming to our/your project!
Yammy! I love grated salads and I make them out of all sorts of stuff. Somehow the grating of stuff seems to make more surfaces available to coat with dressing and this is a good thing. Grated salads are piffle to make and produce maximum health and colour benefits.
Try these ones on for size: Grated carrot, grated red cabbage, grated white cabbage, thinly sliced red onions and lots of chopped chives. Dress with a mixture of orange juice, grated orange zest, red wine vinegar, olive oil, black pepper and a dash of celery salt.
Or this fine May mixture: new salad leaves, chopped spinach and rocket, grated cucumber, shredded mint, parsley and chopped chives, grated courgette and finely sliced onion. Dress with cider vinegar, olive oil, lemon juice, a smidge of mustard and black pepper.
When the bread gets tough, the tough get..... Baking it? Into a squidgy, cheese topped bake of delight? Oh. Yeah!
Here is the recipe: fry onions, garlic, thinly sliced peppers and whatever the hell else is lurking in the back of the fridge and layer the mix between buttered slices of bread. Mix up an eggy batter of milk, eggs, grated cheese, thyme, black and white pepper and pour over the assembly and wait for it to soak through.
We had some sweet tomato sauce leftover so we topped it with that and then added another layer of grated cheese. But you could do without that. Bake it in a medium hot oven and check after a wee while; once the underneath-bread is bouncy but not soggy and the top is crispy then it is ready to consume.
Fried cabbage, fried leeks, mushrooms, spring onion, kale or grated carrots could all make an appearance here. I think this is pretty spesh and a great way to use up stale bread. If you have a few crusts then bag them up and freeze them, soon enough you'll have enough breaded bits and bobs to make one of these. And an ace version of this if you want to posh it up a bit is to use granary bread and alternate the layers of bread with very thinly sliced sharp apple and make a creme fraiche and thyme batter and top with lots of sharp cheese and eat warm with chutney...
I'm Vic, and I run the Secret Kitchen Cafe in Sneinton, Nottingham. This is where me or Marsha post our updates on events and other happenings.