Secret Soup Society: fighting food waste and feeding families
By Siân Kidd
Siân Kidd writes about how a muddy encounter with a group of children at a holiday supper and play session at The Vench inspired the name of Secret Soup Society. Ingenious, yet simple, the voluntary organisation turns ‘veg on the edge’ into nourishing and delicious soup to fight food waste and feed families. We also hear from volunteer Delfina who shares her ‘Full of Beans Soup‘ recipe.
Secret Soup Society fights food waste and feeds families. We make soup using food destined for landfill and redistribute surplus food and goods to organisations fighting food inequality. To date, we’ve served over 2000 portions of soup, saved about three tons of food from landfill and have a team of 10 volunteers who regularly come and cook, or rescue, food.
When I started the project in September 2020, I thought I knew a fair bit about food waste, I’d just finished a year-long course in Practical Sustainability with Shift Bristol, and we’d spent a lot of it talking (and complaining) about the UK food system. I knew that the UK produced around 9.5 million tons of food waste a year, but even so, when I started collecting surplus food from supermarkets for redistribution to FOOD Clubs during lockdown, I was truly shocked at how much there was. I thought food destined for landfill would have something wrong with it, but most of what I was collecting was fine, so why were supermarkets throwing it away? It made me question what food waste really was, why there was so much of it and what I could do about it.
I’d spent the past 16 months working for The Vench, a community centre and adventure playground in Lockleaze, who provide free meals to local children and families at holiday lunch clubs and weekly play sessions. They also run a weekly ‘Food Club’ in partnership with Family Action and Fareshare South West, providing local people ‘good-quality food at a low cost’ by redistributing food that would have been sent to landfill, some of which was the food I was collecting. According to the 2019 index of multiple deprivation, Lockleaze ward is amongst the 10% of most deprived neighbourhoods in the UK, it is also considered to be a ‘food desert’, meaning it is a difficult area to access affordable, quality food, so these services are essential and became lifelines for many when the pandemic hit.
I noticed there were often vegetables left at the end of FOOD Club, crates of ‘veg on the edge’ like floppy carrots, ‘ugly veg’ like celeriac or ‘fiddly veg’ like artichokes or pumpkins. It seemed such a shame to let them go to waste after they’d already been rescued once, so I started to wonder how they could be put to better use than being turned into compost. During one of the holiday supper and play sessions, I was playing with a group of children in the mud kitchen, when one of them came over with a pot full of muddy water containing floating bits of conker, grass and daisies. They proudly presented me with some ‘secret soup’… and there it was, a brilliant solution to the unused veg problem and a brilliant name to boot as we never knew what ingredients were going to turn up each week needing to be used. I got a load of second-hand cooking equipment, bought some basic ingredients and, the following week, my partner Jacob and I cooked our first batch of soup using Food Club’s surplus veg, and the Secret Soup Society was born!
Now, our volunteers meet once a week to cook soup from the surplus food we collect, and are donated, every week from local supermarkets and brilliant organisations like the Avon Gleaning Network (previously Bristol Gleaning Network). We have some exciting things planned for the coming year: we’re developing our school workshops after a successful trial last summer and in March we will be doing the first of four Community Feast events for Lockleaze residents at The Vench. Our aim this year is to set up as a Community Interest Company, and I’m currently receiving support to do that through the School of Social Entrepreneurs’ ‘Lloyds Start Up Programme’ which I was lucky enough to get a place on last year.
Food doesn’t just nourish us, it brings us together and when we work together, we can make real, lasting difference to communities. Our vision is a sustainable food system where everyone has equal access to the food that we all deserve and we’re hoping to get there, one bowl at a time.
If you’d like to make us a donation, you can donate us the price of a coffee via Ko-fi.
Meanwhile, here are our tips to help reduce food waste in the home:
This delicious, comforting soup is a great belly-filler for chilly winter days. Pumpkin seeds are often thrown away, but they are full of nutrients and easy to turn into a tasty addition to soups and salads. This recipe can be easily modified and turned into a larger chilli by adding chunks of roasted sweet potato and a teaspoon of chilli flakes.
2 tablespoons oil
2 chopped onions
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons smoked paprika
2 teaspoons dried oregano
4 cloves minced or grated garlic
2 tablespoons tomato purée
400g can chopped tomatoes
2 x cans 400g mixed beans, rinsed and drained
600ml vegetable stock
2 roasted red bell peppers, chopped
½ teaspoon dried chilli flakes (optional)
salt and pepper, to taste
small handful pumpkin seeds, to serve
Did you know that 20,000 tonnes of food waste is thrown into Bristol’s black bins every year? Find out why it’s so important to reduce the amount of food we waste and check out Bristol Bites Back Better resources and activities designed to fight food waste in the city.
So, what change do you want to see happen that will transform food in Bristol by 2030? Do you already have an idea for how Bristol can make this happen? Join the conversation now.
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