I left at the end of the evening in awe, not of the physical thing we had done but of the immeasurable power that went into making it happen, the plain and simple rightness of the whole thing
It's not everyday that you get approached to help head up a one off event for the UNs World Food Program. But then its not everyday that you realise there are some great and good people out there working towards goals you have been shouting about for years. Want diversity in world farming? So does the WFP. Want more sustainable food systems with greater resilience? So does the WFP. Want to help people care more about what they eat, and get nutrition as well as energy from their diet? So does the WFP. In a nutshell this was a no brainer for me. Would I like to help? Would I ever!
The good news didn't stop there either, I was to team up with eco foodie legend - and the brains behind The People's Supermarket - Arthur Potts-Dawson to create and deliver a "Healthy not hungry" dining event in London with a zero budget to highlight not only the fantastic work the WFP delivers on a daily basis in some of the toughest situations on the planet but also to get people talking about change, diet, wellbeing, hunger and nutrition, education and action.
So aside from all the challenges of delivering this on a zero budget - and I mean zero - how were we going to create a menu to reflect these ideas; how was it to tell its story and what are the most important stories to tell? Arthur and I had a very long phone call about that one and several longish ones after that initial brainstorming, hammering out the finer details.
We both firmly believe that long term, we all need to eat less meat, and we almost opted for a vegetarian/vegan menu but decided against it after we thought through the "Incidental meat" that is a part of our food production systems - in this case wild wood pigeon which is a major agricultural pest and shot for control resulting in meat, better to use it than waste it. Then the menu went to nutritionists and medicinal herbalists and was tweaked again - we were NOT allowed to smoke the onions due to free radicals and we MUST get some fermented food in there...In the end the menu covered many bases well and told the stories we wanted it to clearly and in depth - but that's all 'chefy' self congratulatory of course.
What was really, really amazing about the Healthy not hungry dinner held in London on the 25th January 2017 was not the food, nor even the drinks, or the fabulous surroundings of the Glaziers Hall at London bridge. It was the overwhelming sense of support. The 60-odd (in the sense of ‘ish - I don't mean they were all odd) volunteers that came to help; the Swedish vegan chef who "popped over" to help out, the support of the event by the wider community via the instant world of social media, the enjoyment of the guests and oh so much more. The human response to this task - the wearisome challenge to do good - was immense and rewarding. It restored my faith that we can achieve more, make better decisions and improve food globally by working together.
I left at the end of the evening in awe, not of the physical thing we had done but of the immeasurable power that went into making it happen, the plain and simple rightness of the whole thing. Yes, we served onions baked in their skin, yes there was bread made from pea flour - all to show how simple things can be great whilst being more nutritious and less impactful on the environment. Yes, there was a swanky Macadamia nut oil emulsion in place of butter to highlight the expense of producing dairy as against the sustainability of permaculture of nut trees. Yes, there was Indian street food mid courses by the Michelin-starred chef Atul Kochhar, yes there was a kohlrabi salad and NO there was not a veggie alternative to the pigeon because the pigeon was only there to represent the fact that some meat is unavoidable and if you choose not to eat it that's fine by me, we will do you a plate without it.
But what this event ended up being about was unity, the power of the collective will to do good and the simple honest truth that great food is found in even the most humble of places.
I am indebted to WFP for the opportunity, Arthur deserves a holiday for all his hard work overseeing the action on the night and I cannot wait to do it all again next year.
Chef Tim Maddams is the Ecologist's Ethical Foodie writer and the founder of the Hall & Hearty community Pop Ups.