Set up earlier this year and supplying healthy food to households across Edinburgh, Empty Kitchens is a movement of volunteer chefs taking food donations and converting them into breakfasts, lunches, dinners and treats. Community volunteers then package these meals into 'day packs' for delivery to those who need them most, free of charge. We're happy to be able to donate ingredients straight from the Greencity warehouse to make sure these community heroes of 2020 can continue their efforts to abolish hunger, reduce waste and create a community support network for chefs and beyond. They've answered 6 of our questions to let us know more about their organisation:
1. How did it all start?
Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts was started just 8 months ago in response to the Covid crisis. When lockdown was announced, our founding director, a chef, saw his hospitality colleagues practically unemployed overnight, and his suppliers with warehouses full of food that they could no longer use. Add to this a city with a shocking disparity in wealth, and the answer was clear. Driven by a desire to reduce food waste, tackle food insecurity, and create a safe and productive space for furloughed workers, Empty Kitchens has now provided 300,000 nutritious meals free of charge to those who need them, and saved nearly 100 tonnes of food waste.
2. How many people are involved in your organisation?
We currently have a base of around 250 core volunteers that work across our kitchen, packing, delivery and admin/business/marketing departments; and work with a wide-reaching network of food collections angels, who work through the night to rescue surplus food from supermarkets.
3. Tell us about the people you cook for.
We cook for anyone who needs it. One of our most important values is to retain the dignity of our clients. We do not carry out any means testing, as we firmly believe that healthy food is a basic human right, and we’re not interested in putting up any barriers to accessing it. If you’re coming to us in 2020 and asking for help to feed yourself or your family, that’s good enough for us. We currently deliver to 750 households in Edinburgh, and our clients range from those surviving on universal credits, to nurses struggling to feed their kids. We also offer a twice-daily hot service on site, accessed by around 100 clients who are not able to safely store or heat up food, or who do not have a fixed address to deliver to.
4. What sort of food will you be cooking?
We deliver day packs to provide our clients with; muesli bursting with fruits and seeds, a veg-packed soup, and a wholesome and healthy main dish. In each day pack is also fresh bread and a snack, and any bits and pieces we can put together. Our chefs do a fantastic job of whipping up a never-ending menu from whatever food is donated to us, and all of the main elements of our packs are cooked from scratch on site.
5. What steps need to be taken to improve people’s health?
There are so many reasons why an individual may not be able to fuel themselves with everything their body really needs, whether it be financial barriers, mental health struggles, or good old fashioned lack of education about food and cooking. Whilst there are a number of food provisions out there doing a great job of filling the bellies of those in need, you have to question the health benefits of tinned spaghetti hoops or sandwich meal deals. Our hope is that by providing a full day’s worth of prepared food full of vegetables and good quality protein, we can start to make a difference in the health of our clients. Its also become clear to us that a service like ours has health tremendous benefits beyond the basic element of nutrition. We get daily feedback from people who, thanks to having a consistent meal provision, have been better able to keep on top of their medication or have had a huge element of stress removed from their shoulders.
6. You can pick one chef to come and work with you, who is it and why?
We’re desperate to work with the everyday chefs. The woman down the street who’s furloughed with 20 years’ experience, or the budding new chef who’s just been declared ‘unskilled’. These are the heroes who have rustled up 300,000 meals from nothing. These are our people.