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Bellies, not bins: How Everybody Eats is tackling food poverty in Auckland by intercepting food waste

If you find yourself stepping foot inside Gemmayze St Restaurant in St Kevin’s Arcade on a Monday night, you may be under the impression it’s a regular restaurant – after all, the menu shows there’s a three-course meal on offer.  

However, this is a pop-up restaurant with a difference: every Monday night, Everybody Eats takes over Gemmayze St Restaurant’s premises and cooks up meals with food that was otherwise heading for landfill, made by some of the city’s top chefs, who volunteer their time pro-bono. What’s more, the restaurant is ‘pay as you feel’, with diners asked to pay only as much as they can afford – which includes not paying at all, if it’s not within their means.

Everybody Eats’ concept is geared towards feeding people in need with the same dignity and humanity allocated to people at any restaurant around town, although paying customers swing by, too. On any given night, Everybody Eats founder Nick Loosley estimates about 75 to 80 percent of diners are in need.

Loosley (pictured left), Ruby Haldane and the Everybody Eats team have received a lot of support from KiwiHarvest

But he also says he also isn’t focusing on squashing negative stereotypes society holds about people living in poverty.

“We try to keep our aims and model really clean and simple, at least in these early stages. One of the failures I have observed from social enterprises/start-ups/charities is they try to solve too many problems,” he says.

“One of the key things we do at Everybody Eats is bring people from different walks of life together around food. I have seen how humbled people are – rich and poor – to share a table and a meal with someone different to themselves. At Everybody Eats, I’ve seen people who have lived on the streets for decades sitting barefoot opposite professionals wearing suits, engaging in meaningful conversation over a bowl of hot soup. 

“I suppose my hope is that through sharing meals, we will break down social barriers and put people that would typically not cross paths in a situation where they need to interact. If that changes their perception in any way, I am happy.”

The social enterprise, which has recently registered to become a charity, has received an overwhelming amount of support from fellow businesses and chefs who love the concept. Some of the restaurants that have volunteered to cook for Everybody Eats so far include Sky City, The Oyster Inn, Paris Butter, Bird on a Wire, Burger Burger, Cazador, Mudbrick, and more.

“What is particularly interesting for me is that we can get these chefs, who are typically overworked and underpaid to come on a day off to do the same thing they do for 60 or more hours a week,” Loosley says.

“So I started to ask, why? The reason is that these guys are normally cooking steaks for rich people. They don’t get to use their skills to help other blue collar, hardworking or even struggling people, that they relate to more than the professionals that frequent their restaurants. Many of them are also passionate about not wasting food.”

One of the dishes from an Everybody Eats fundraising dinner made by chef Samir Allen from Gemmayze St restaurant

While Everybody Eats originally begun as a trial pop-up restaurant in June 2017, it has become a well-loved addition to the local community, so Loosley is now crowdfunding on PledgeMe to open up New Zealand’s first pay-as-you-feel permanent restaurant, with the location yet to be decided.

More than $92,000 of the $120,000 target has been raised, with 17 days to go. Loosley says the campaign got off to a great start with $20,000 raised on the first day, but keeping the momentum going has been challenging.

“There is a lot of work to do, we need to raise at least $1500 a day, and we have struggled to do $500 on a few days recently. But a generous $5 or $10k donation (we’ve had one of those) can change everything.”

While his focus is solely on Auckland for now, he says his ultimate goal to open 10 restaurants across the country.

The idea of opening a pay-as-you-feel restaurant came off the back of research Loosley was doing for a Master’s in Economics while living in the UK. As part of his research, he helped with different initiatives combating food waste and ended up working alongside the founders of the Real Junk Food Project. He was inspired by what he saw.

The Real Junk Food Project originated out of London and intercepts food destined for landfill and redistributes it through its network of pay-as-you-feel restaurants, cafes and school partnerships.

While the initiative has fed more than one million people in need worldwide, controversially, its founder Adam Smith has faced persecution from the West Yorkshire Trading Standards for ‘attempting to supply the public with food past its sell-by-date’.

“I was told we were making food available that was past its use-by date,” Smith told The Big Issue.

“That’s the whole point. That’s what we’ve done for four years. We’ve fed more than one million people worldwide, with food that’s past its given use-by date, but not one person has ever been sick. We make food safe for human consumption. It’s simple, and it works.”

More locally, Everybody Eats has served up food for over 7000 to Kiwis in need. But Loosley says despite New Zealand having a similar culture and food system to that of the UK, the Brits are about three to four years ahead of us in terms of food waste solutions.

Food for Everybody Eats, intercepted from going to landfill

“I put this down to the relative success of our economy over the last decade,” Loosley says. “There wasn’t a necessity to solve social and environmental problems five years ago. Now people are freaking out at agriculture, its effect on our rivers, etc.”

Now that New Zealand has one of the worst food poverty issues in the developed world and the most homeless per capita in the OECD, he says people are taking notice and initiatives like Everybody Eats are gaining momentum. There are also other organisations like Eat My Lunch and Wellington-based The Free Store that have popped up in recent times and are doing their bit to give food to those that are vulnerable.

“How did we get into this predicament – is it the Government that should stop this stuff from happening? Or can communities, and people without the help of the government and the council come together to help other people? This is the thinking behind our concept,” Loosley says.

“Let’s see if as a community we can pull all the pieces of the puzzle together to do some good.”

He says in his opinion, previous attempts to save the planet and humankind from the destruction reaped by people in terms of food wastage, poverty and other societal issues have been weak. But there may be some hope yet.

“A country like New Zealand – because of our relative wealth, natural resources and stability – has a unique opportunity to lead the way in terms of social and environmental justice. It will be interesting to revisit this in 10 years’ time,” he says.

If you’re keen to contribute, check out Everybody Eats’ crowdfunding campaign here.

Elly is Idealog's editor and resident dog enthusiast. She enjoys travelling, tea, good books, and writing about exciting ideas and cool entrepreneurs.

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