THE tills in Southampton centre ring with people doing their lastminute Christmas shopping.
But in one High Street shop this isn’t happening. It’s not that they don’t have any customers but rather that they don’t have a till.
As was previously reported in the Daily Echo (December 3), Books for Free in Southampton is one of a chain of “shops” around the country coordinated by charity Healthy Planet, where volunteers give away old books for free to avoid them going to waste.
But the team, led by volunteer store manager Cara Sandys, wasn’t happy with stopping at books.
And now they have teamed up with local restaurants to give away food for free. When we visited, on Friday afternoon, customers, volunteers and homeless people were being treated to free curry, courtesy of nearby restaurant Coriander Lounge.
Since the “shop” first opened in October it has been offering customers “freegan” food, which is “rescued” from bins at supermarkets and is slightly out of date but still considered edible.
The food has proved popular but in the last few weeks the team has expanded its redistribution of waste food operation.
Mohammed Ulhaq, one of the managers of Coriander Lounge, popped into the shop with his nephews and was so impressed by the operation that he wanted to get involved.
“We have a lunch buffet and we can’t sell the food after it’s finished so it’s been going to waste,”
he explained. It’s all freshly cooked and we thought we could bring it here to give away.”
The restaurant is planning on taking waste food to the shop to be distributed three or four times a week.
One of the recipients on Friday was Big Issue seller Laurence Stone. He’d heard about the free food from another Big Issue seller and came along.
“It’s brilliant that it’s not just going in the bin,” he said.
“I sometimes go to supermarket bins because you can get lots of good stuff there. It’s ridiculous what gets thrown away. I’ll definitely come back again and tell my friends about it too.”
Luke Binnie, head chef at The Winston Hotel in Archers Road, Southampton, has also become involved in the scheme.
“Working in a kitchen, you do see a lot of waste. I try to cut down on it but it is scary. My boss is happy for me to bring any waste down here. If all the restaurants in town did this, there wouldn’t be any need for anyone to go hungry.”
He added that there tends to be a particularly large amount of waste at Christmas.“People order too much for Christmas parties. You get a lot more stuff being wasted than normal. As a chef, I’d much rather my food was eaten, rather than going in the bin!”
Anyone who visits the shop is welcome to have the food – the chief aim is to stop it from being thrown away and added to our mountains of waste.
One of the people enjoying Friday’s donation was volunteer Annie Sawyer, who was eating Indian food for the first time.
Cara, who is coordinating the free food project as a spin off from Books for Free, describes it as “a bit of a radical experiment”.
She says that when she started the project her chief concern was to reduce waste but now she realises there is much more to it. “I’ve always been very concerned about environmental issues and the whole shop was originally about reducing waste but you start to realise it’s all about people and community,”
“The waste reduction issue becomes secondary to the connections you start to make to people who are vulnerable and aren’t as fortunate as you’ve been in your life.
“Normally you don’t think about these people. I would never have had a proper conversation with a homeless person before. Now I can go outside and I know all these people by name and you hope you are making a bit of a difference.”
She adds that some people are uncomfortable with the commercialism of Christmas, and that schemes like this offer an alternative.
“A lot of people recognise the excess of Christmas. A lot of waste is produced at this time of year. This is a counter-position to consumerism. This place is about making do with what you need, not taking too much. The economic mess that the world has got itself into is based on accumulation and greed – taking more than you need.
“This is an antidote to that. If we can get more people to adopt the philosophy of only taking what you need rather than piling up your plate and not finishing it, we might be in a better position.”
p Books for Free is at 170 High Street, Southampton (opposite East Street). For more information, to volunteer or donate books or unwanted food, email firstname.lastname@example.org.