FoodCycle - a scrumptious Win-Win!

by Tejas & Elaine

Each Saturday, in the Centre at St. Pauls on Hills Road, Foodcycle Cambridge volunteers prepare delicious and healthy lunches for the community. Our meals are created using perfectly good surplus food from retailers; food which would otherwise have gone to waste.

Reactions at the mention of food waste usually go along the lines of "Gosh!" :-O Isn't it terrible, all that food that's wasted!" And it's true! Around 30-50% of the food produced globally just ends up going to waste; and it's a similar figure in the UK. A kind of "one for me - one for you", where "you" is the bin. Making and distributing all this wasted food in the first place is very resource intensive too. For example, on average, 1,200 litres of water goes into producing a loaf of bread. It also contributes to carbon emissions; eliminating food waste completely would be the carbon equivalent of taking 1 in every 5 cars off the road!

The loss of food happens all the way along the chain. Around half of food waste in the UK comes from households, which tends to be because we either prepare too much when we cook, or don't use food in time. But the other 50% comes from a number of sectors: manufacturers, retailers, and the hospitality industry. Given the heaps of energy taken to make and distribute the food, and then the energy & cost needed to move it through the disposal process - it's overwhelmingly preferable for the food to be consumed.

This is where FoodCycle comes in. Founded in 2008, FoodCycle rescues good surplus food from an unnecessary end - potentially at landfill, and turns it into healthy community meals. A lot of our food comes from supermarkets. Items they can't sell by the display until date, we can take and cook before the guideline best before date. Since we started cooking in May 2009 we have created over 45,000 meals from over 40,000kg of reclaimed surplus food.


In Cambridge, St. Pauls have kindly given us the use of their hall and kitchen space, and on Saturdays volunteers get together and prepare a three course vegetarian lunch. We usually have 25-35 guests come to eat and it tends to be a mix of people. We get rough sleepers who may have gone days without a proper meal, the elderly or families who sometimes find it difficult to make ends meet.

Years of increasing food prices combined with a deep recession have pushed more and more people into food poverty. In 2008/9, twenty six thousand people in the UK relied on emergency food aid from a foodbank. By 2015 that figure is forecast to be half a million. Teachers in London recently estimated five children in each class come to school hungry and consequently have trouble concentrating. Considering how much food is wasted, this is even more of a shame, and for those struggling our lunches can be a big help.

A lot of guests also enjoy the community atmosphere and come to catch up with their friends. For many this is as important a reason for coming as the food. It can be deceptively easy for people to find themselves isolated from others and their local community. Newcomers to Cambridge may not know anyone here; and for the elderly, local family and support structures may have gradually decreased, until they find themselves alone and isolated. One of our guests is sixty one, and has lived his whole life in Cambridge. Over the decades, family and friends have left the town, and he's now the only one here. He's got a good circle of friends at Foodcycle though, and loves the weekly chat over lunch. The chat is as varied as the guests, and one of the great things about being a volunteer too!

Volunteering is on a week by week basis, so there’s no weekly commitment, and volunteers just sign up on the rota for Saturdays they’re free to help out. Food is collected on Friday afternoons. In the old days (2010!) people would cycle around the city with a big trailer in tow, but luckily eco-courier Outspoken help us with most of the heavy cycling now. Then on Saturday morning, in kind of a cross between Ready Steady Cook and Masterchef, we race against the clock to prepare a gourmet three course meal using whatever we’ve collected. What we get can vary (we once had 90% bread!), so the cooking can be very creative, with some weeks more gourmet than others! But all weeks are healthy and tasty :-)

To summarise, we quote one of our regular guests, Margaret, who in a lovely Christmas card, described the lunches as a "weekly special treat of an excellent meal and the opportunity for lovely friendships and sociability. It is something to look forward to each week, and for me personally a huge release from the daily feeling of insecurity about cooking."

If you might be interested in volunteering at FoodCycle Cambridge, or learning more about us, email us on
Check out Cambridge FoodCycle's Facebook page!
We are also on Twitter: @FoodCycleCamb
FoodCycle is a registered charity 1134423, and a company limited by guarantee 7101349