Britain is facing its greatest crisis since the Second World War. A growing number of people are struggling to afford sufficient food. At the same time, according to the ONS, 7.4 million Britons have suffered from “lockdown loneliness”, suggesting the pandemic is not only exacerbating food insecurity, but loneliness too. What can be done?
These issues have inspired a new wave of eating spaces, characterised by the (NFS). This Sheffield-based enterprise, which has branches in several other cities, envisages “a world without hunger or social isolation” and “a social eating space in every street and high-rise, made by people from all backgrounds.”
There’s no single model for how social dining places should function. Some run on a pay-what-you-can basis; at others, restaurants subsidise lunches with dinner profits; and charities offer free three-course meals in churches or community centres. What they all have in common is cheap (or free) nutritious food but unlike, say, a food bank三级成人视频, sociability is always at the core.
Many of these enterprises take inspiration from British Restaurants, which were introduced in 1940 to help feed an embattled nation cheap, healthy meals for the equivalent of around a pound in today's money. They weren't charities but restaurants, with decorations and music, and open to all. By 1943, British Restaurants were serving 600,000 meals a day.
三级成人视频The NFS launched two years ago, with roots in another Sheffield initiative. is a community centre and cafe that “aims to tackle social isolation, social inequality, food waste and food insecurity,” says director Isaac Tendler. “We tackle those four things by bringing people together, primarily by running the community cafe.”
Meals are cooked by volunteers using donated ingredients (from supermarkets, charities, gleaning networks, allotments, farms, producers); guests pay what they want. If they can’t offer money, they may contribute in other ways, by giving their time or sharing other resources.
Professor Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at Oxford, is an advocate of such schemes. He believes that “eating together is probably the most important way we build friendships. So a National Food Service would do more for our collective happiness and wellbeing, not to mention our health, than anything else we might think of doing.”
三级成人视频“Regularly eating meals alone is one of the biggest factors for unhappiness besides mental health,” says NFS founder Louis Koseda, “it’s a public health problem, creating as much strain on the economy as mental health issues.”
三级成人视频Visitors to Foodhall and other NFS schemes vary. Many are homeless, vulnerable, elderly or struggling to afford food, but, as Koseda explains, “this has captivated people from all walks of life. We get wealthy people coming in, talking to someone who’s a recovering alcoholic. And they get on, that’s the beauty of it.”
Whether linked to the NFS or not, free or very cheap communal dining, though rare on our high streets, is gaining momentum. There are longstanding stalwarts led by immigrant communities, such as the Indian YMCA in London. In Coventry, the council-run Pod Café provides organic, locally-sourced cheap meals. Both Super Kitchen and Food Cycle – the former in the East Midlands, the latter across 43 sites – provide free communal dining.
Funding is varied, including individual or corporate donations, local government loans or postcode lotteries. Often, kitchens are run by volunteers, perhaps with a small core of paid staff. Food is usually donated surplus, and tends to be vegetarian, to be as inclusive of religious, cultural or dietary needs as possible.
In north-west London, the runs both a food bank and community kitchen, distributing around 80-100 emergency food parcels per week, in normal times, and seating roughly 40 people each Friday for community meals. Nirmean Sawi, its operations manager, says “no matter the circumstance, anyone can join for a three-course, vegetarian meal.”
The menu is dictated by the surplus ingredients available, so it changes each week. “For most people that come on a Friday, this is the only time they’ll go out, sit down at a table and eat with other people,” Sawi explains. “We’ve had so many lovely stories. One 18-year-old homeless boy we helped through the food bank met a family here who had a spare bedroom and ended up housing him for a few weeks. Reducing isolation is a core element of what we do.”
is a national charity set up in 2009 to run community meals for between 30 and 120 guests at a time. Like Sufra it’s free, though guests can donate. “We’re very much about community, bringing people together, we’re tackling social isolation as well. That’s what makes us different from a food bank,” says FoodCycle’s head of marketing, Carly Shutes.
三级成人视频A constant theme is providing a restaurant experience in a world where restaurants are increasingly out of reach. At FoodCycle, there are typically three courses: perhaps a soup, a curry and cake. “We create an experience, we lay tables with cloths, knives and forks. You’re coming to a restaurant, so there are flowers on the table,” says Shutes. “Some people who come don’t have an oven. We get elderly people who come for the social element, others for the food. Everybody’s mixing on the same level, made to feel equal and welcome.”
Last year FoodCycle conducted a survey of their guests and found that 77 per cent had made new friends, and three-quarters felt less lonely. “It’s about so much more than food,” Shutes insists. “Food helps break the ice, to start the conversation.”
三级成人视频Communal eating has deep roots. Banding together for meals is as old as human history. “We’ve seen this throughout British society, historically,” says Koseda. “This period is the odd one out.”
三级成人视频Dr Bryce Evans, an associate professor in history at Liverpool Hope University, points out that public eating halls during both World Wars (they were called National Kitchens in WWI) stemmed from a variety of ethical impulses: “You had traditional working-class female voluntarism, faith-based initiatives, a new wave of municipal liberalism in Victorian and Edwardian England. There were flashes of patriotic conservatism, and pangs of war socialism. They were very hard to pin down, politically.”
三级成人视频From an economic, rather than moral point of view, healthy, well-fed, contented people are more productive than unhealthy and unhappy ones. Koseda believes that one reason the economy is under strain at present is that it lacks this underpinning. "We need to put it back, otherwise people won’t engage with society," he says. "This should have cross-party support. You can understand it coming from any angle.”
三级成人视频Modern cities centre around commercial spaces, leaving little room for projects such as Foodhall. “Ultimately, our idea is to create prototypes, small precedents that can be showcased to the rest of the country.” Koseda wants a national British-Restaurant-style scheme, though he recognises that it might be difficult to convince politicians with so many voices currently clamouring for funding.
三级成人视频Evans points out that, while British Restaurants had elements of state socialism, they were run as businesses. “You still had to come up with convincing business plans, employ paid staff, and at least break even if not make a profit. It wasn’t charity, it was different from Dickensian soup kitchens.”
Whether the NFS materialises on a national scale or not, it will keep running – expanding, even – on a local level. “We’re an action-led campaign. We are doing it already,” Koseda insists. “But, how do we get from here to something that resembles the NHS?” Koseda takes inspiration from the NHS’s roots – it wasn’t dreamt up one morning in 1948; rather, it drew on a patchwork of health provision going back decades. It took a crisis – the second world war – to kick it into shape. Perhaps another crisis will spearhead another large societal shift.
三级成人视频When lockdown began, community kitchens were among the quickest to act and adapt their operations. They were already equipped with connections, volunteers and resources. Of necessity, they morphed into the food banks they insist they are not, delivering food parcels or ready meals. Both FoodCycle and Sufra are attempting to maintain the social element with a quick phone call or a chat by the door, where possible.
For Koseda, it is “completely mad” that millions of people in one of the world’s richest nations are going hungry, relying on food banks and free school meals. “We have enough monetary resources and more than enough food, we have all the things we need to feed everyone. Ultimately, the government has a responsibility to protect citizens, and food is a human right. It’s a no-brainer really.”
Whether support comes or not, initiatives like Foodhall and FoodCycle will continue to feed people, free or cheaply, reintroducing the social element once they can. “In Sheffield, we have this wonderful palace of social eating,” says Koseda. "We’ve never had any violence, we’ve welcomed people with open arms, some of the most marginalised and some of the wealthiest all integrated. That’s the precedent.”