For the past 8 months I have volunteered many of my Friday afternoons to a lovely charity called Food Cycle. As the name suggests we take food that was going to be thrown away, take it into a kitchen and come up with a variety of dishes to serve up, for free, to the local community of Norwich, many of whom are in vulnerable situations with this being one of their few hot meals in the week. We also serve it up to students, professionals and like minded individuals who come along to experience a sit down meal and engage with people from all different circumstances and backgrounds.
To say that my initial roots into the organisation was based on a fight for injustice, or a disdain for a system that throws away over 7 million tonnes of food away each year would be a lie. I certainly am no fan of those figures considering the rising numbers of food bank users and the drastic situations people finds themselves in other countries across the world. But sadly my roots came from a more selfish situation in the form of that lovely feeling we all hate, guilt.
When living in Melbourne, Australia I was lucky enough to live in a charming and lively hostel where I made some amazing friends, it was also located close to my most favourite restaurant in the entire world, Lentils As Anything. It not only served a range of delicious meals from across the globe but was located in a converted convent surrounded by lush gardens and amazing architecture. It also had a pay what you feel policy.
As the name suggests it’s up to the guests to pay what they feel for the meal or pay what they can afford. Being in a house full of a range of different people from all different backgrounds, many of which were struggling to make ends meet, made Lentils our regular spot throughout the week. Whether it is was a hungover masala dosa for breakfast or a delicious Sri Lankan buffet style dinner. Lentils simply could not be beaten for anything. The setting was gorgeous, the people were like minded and friendly, the food was dynamic and vegetarian. And it was free.
“Free you say?! But I thought it was pay what you feel, surely you have to pay something!” I hear you cry. Well the simple answer is no you don’t, and many of us at the hostel didn’t. Both inside and outside was a big red box and you would put all your donations, if any, into the box. No awkward moments with waiters (all of which were volunteers) and no guilty moments of having to type $1 into a chip and pin machine. It simply became so much easier to just walk past that big red box and donate nothing at all. We would tell ourselves that we would pay them more the next time we came, or that you paid a bit too much the time before, or that we would volunteer when our lives became a bit more structured. But the simple truth is that, apart from a very select few, none of us really gave back as much as we should have. Lentils was a god send to us travellers and it is truly one of the most unique and inspiring places I have had the pleasure of being a part of and it made me feel very uneasy that we abused it’s trust, love and ideas on a near daily basis. Guilt was alive and well within me.
It wasn’t all take take take however. Many of us travellers did volunteer at least a couple of times and we made sure to clean up after ourselves and respect everything that Lentils stood for. In my guilt ridden time before leaving Melbourne I even managed to part ways with a $50 bill and stuffed it in the big red box just to make myself feel better. But on the grand scheme of things I would find it very hard for the majority of us to look back on our time at Lentils and not feel a sense of guilt, shame and remorse. When I left Melbourne I vowed to repay, in some way, the generosity that was shown to me at Lentils As Anything. I wasn’t sure how and I didn’t know when, but I promised myself that all my greed and immaturity that I had shown over the 6+ months I lived in Melbourne would be turned into some form of unselfishness.
Food Cycle was my apology.
Part 2 of Food for Thought is here