How a Three-Course-Meal Gives Dignity to Those Without a Home

By Jem Collins, Freelance writer 17 Oct 2017

On the menu at FEAST! this evening is a full three courses. To start there’s potato soup, then a tricky choice between vegetable stir-fry, stew, or some incredible looking cheesy mushrooms. Dessert is a classic apple pie, or if you’re in the mood for chocolate, a selection of baked goods.

However, delicious as it both looks and tastes, FEAST! is far from your average slap-up meal. Everything that’s been cooked up this evening was previously destined for the rubbish bin in the form of supermarket waste. It’s also served up weekly at one of London’s many homeless shelters, with the volunteers who cooked it sitting down to eat with the residents they’re serving.

It’s a project dreamt up by the whirlwind of colour that is Hannah Style (as we’re introduced she’s wearing extremely realistic strawberry earrings), and one that aims to address two problems at the same time – the poor diets of those who are homeless, and the lack of dignity they feel they’re treated with.

“FEAST! is a community project that runs weekly at homeless shelters,” Hannah explains. How to distill the project into a sentence? “We collect surplus food and take that food to a local kitchen where we all have a big community meal, as equals,” she adds.

‘Everyone Deserves a Good Meal’

Image Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo

The project is based on a simple solution – food waste. Statistics from the UK’s biggest supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda, estimate that more than 175,000 tonnes of food were thrown out from UK supermarkets last year, most of which was completely edible. And it’s this food that Hannah wants to use as a force for good.

“It’s the stuff that’s past the sell-by date, but within the expiry date,” she tells me. “It might also be things which are a bit dented or misshapen, or it might just be one broken egg in the box that causes the rest not to be sold. It’s unpredictable, it’s potluck [what we get], but whatever happens, it’s going to be delicious.”

It’s potluck, but whatever happens, it’s going to be delicious

Hannah Style, FEAST! Founder

Aside from food waste though, the main ethos of the project is that “everyone deserves a good meal”, something which stems from Hannah’s background as a dietitian. But, put simply, it’s just not a reality for everyone. Homelessness and food poverty are growing issues across the UK, with a knock on impact for people’s health.

Recent statistics estimate there are almost 60,000 homeless households across the country, with the figure steadily rising since 2010. Since 2014, the number of homeless children in temporary accommodation has also soared by a third, with councils now providing temporary accommodation for more than 120,000 children and their families. This, in turn, has a well documented effect on people’s diets.

While there is limited evidence available about the impact of homelessness on nutrition, a 1999 survey found that the diet’s of many homeless people in London did not meet the suggested nutritional guidelines despite wanting to eat better. Only 28 percent said they ate vegetables daily, 60 percent rarely ate fruit or salad, and diets were typically high in saturated fats and sugar. Similarly, a 2016 report from The Queen’s Nursing Institute (QNI) listed a number of factors as limiting the ability of homeless people to eat well, ranging from a lack of money to no access to cooking or storage facilities.

Watch: Hannah Explains FEAST! to RightsInfo

Video Credit: Jem Collins/ RightsInfo

As well as being issues touched on by the Human Rights Convention, it’s an area specifically mentioned by The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which the UK has also signed. We are all entitled to an adequate standard of living – including food, clothing and housing, something which ties into the dignity and equality at the very core of our human rights.

It goes without saying though, that this isn’t the case for everyone, and the quality of diet can often be overlooked when thinking about tackling problems surrounding homelessness. The Government’s own Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which comes into force next year, focuses on placing a duty on local authorities to “help secure that accommodation does not cease to be available.” As the QNI report summarises “nutrition can often be overlooked when there are other competing priorities, such as safeguarding issues”.

Even traditional responses to food poverty can struggle to fit the needs of homeless people. For example, while the Trussell Trust gave out more than 1.1 million three-food parcels in the last six months, this can be tricky from homeless people to access as they require voucher from a GP or local charity – and for those without a kitchen, store cupboard essentials can be all but impossible to prepare. Similarly, research from the 1999 survey found that the majority of homeless people using day centre or soup kitchen also didn’t fulfil dietary recommendations.

A Focus on Dignity and Equality

Image Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo

Addressing this imbalance is at the heart of the FEAST! project. As a registered dietitian by day, Hannah works hard to ensure each meal is nutritionally balanced – no matter what they receive from as surplus, and since the projects’ inception in 2015, she’s always framed it as a public health initiative.

Equally important, is that the project retains its focus on dignity. “It’s not about us and them, it’s about everybody deserving a good meal,” Hannah reiterates. “It’s very important that we remember that. We don’t have a service system at the front, nobody is higher up in the pecking order, everyone can contribute to the meal. It’s very much a part of dignity.

It’s not about us and them. It’s very much a part of dignity

Hannah Style, FEAST! Founder

“A lot of the residents who come, they’re punters here, they’re not just coming for the meal, they’re coming for the social, a lot of them don’t want the meal, they don’t want to be pitied, they just want to be able to have a nice chat with someone else as an equal.”

Watch: Genta, a volunteer, explains how the project has helped her

Video Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo

In the two years the project has been running everyone involved is convinced it’s had an impact. Anecdotally, homeless people at the meal describe how it’s “the best day of their week”, adding that it “gives them hope”. Everyone around the table took a keen interest in the food they were eating, as well as the opportunity to speak to others on a human level.

What started as a meal for two people, has now grown to more than 40 regulars. “It’s very much about educating myself in so many ways,” says Genta Haxija, a volunteer for the project for the last six months. “You’ve got real people genuinely making an impact immediately.” However, the project is not without its own downfalls. A lack of funding left it on unsteady ground earlier this year, and despite a £10,000 grant from the Evening Standard’s Dispossessed Fund, its future is by no means secure. Equally, the project only runs for one day a week, which begs the question of what happens on the other six.

A Growing Model for the Country 

Image Credit: Jem Collins / RightsInfo

However, for Hannah, Genta and the rest of the team at FEAST!, it’s about building a model that can be scaled up, both in London and across the country.”It became apparent once a month wasn’t enough,” says Hannah. “The residents really wanted a regular meal as a group, as a family, and I was overrun with volunteers.”

“I think projects like this are some of the most important that we get in our society,” adds Genta. “More projects like FEAST! should start popping around. It connects people in a different way that bigger projects and organisations don’t always get to do.”

About The Author

Jem Collins Freelance writer

Jem is an occassional freelance journalist at EachOther. She previously worked as EachOther's News and Social Media Editor and later our Strategy and Impact Director before we rebranded from our previous name (RightsInfo). She is also passionate about helping young people into the media and runs Journo Resources, a start-up which helps young people into the media.

Jem is an occassional freelance journalist at EachOther. She previously worked as EachOther's News and Social Media Editor and later our Strategy and Impact Director before we rebranded from our previous name (RightsInfo). She is also passionate about helping young people into the media and runs Journo Resources, a start-up which helps young people into the media.