In conversations about food insecurity, the value of socialising around food is notably absent. Yet, eating together is important in sustaining not just the physical body, but in creating the sense of belonging that underpins a healthy society.
Today sees the release of ‘Your Place at the Table’, a report commissioned by FoodCycle and Quorn and written by Dr Marsha Smith from Coventry University, in which she highlights why eating together is important in sustaining not just the physical body, but also in creating a sense of belonging that underpins a healthy society.
The report points out that the current cost of living crisis is accompanied by a rise in loneliness and social anxiety and sees food insecure households cutting back on purchasing on healthy foods. Also, the era of austerity policies, where public services have had their funding radically reduced, has been one of the factors increasing social isolation, especially of vulnerable populations.
Why is community dining so good for us?
- Eating together in groups is about more than food – shared mealtimes are social activities that deliver health and environmental benefits.
- People feel welcome and cared for and it’s an opportunity to make and meet friends.
- It builds community and social resilience, in ways that are enjoyable and destigmatising.
- The benefits aren’t just for those eating, volunteers gain too, giving them an opportunity to contribute to their community.
This is backed up by FoodCycle’s annual survey conducted in December 2022 of over 870 FoodCycle guests, which found that:
- 87% of guests say that FoodCycle makes them feel part of their community
- 81% say that attending a FoodCycle meal makes them feel less lonely
- 86% said they feel happier after coming to a FoodCycle meal
- 84% said they have made friends at a FoodCycle meal
Crucially “social isolation and loneliness are viewed as contributing to poorer general health and being closely linked with food poverty.” Therefore, FoodCycle’s model of community dining is “not just about eating together but also creates spaces and places for people to go, and to be. Fundamentally, eating together and with others not only provides the physical sustenance we need to survive but it also tethers people to a shared reality when their day-to-day life can be stressful or lonely.”
Finally, the report found that “FoodCycle creates moments of commensality showing that they are responding to people’s need to socialise in warm, welcoming, social spaces. Sitting and eating a nutritious hot meal and having time to digest food in a relaxed, warm, and comfortable setting is something everyone cherishes. For people experiencing hardships, this need is even greater. Mealtimes are not about the making the world a better place as much as making a place for better worlds.”
‘These initiatives have the capacity to embrace social differences and to facilitate the circulation of ideas and practices of care and hospitality. They operate as a bridging mechanism between people, communities, projects and services, providing the connective tissue in ways which are hard to measure’ -“Your Place at the Table – Understanding the Impacts of Community Dining” by Dr Marsha Smith (Coventry University)
The FoodCycle Community Dining Model
The FoodCycle community dining model consists of three important elements – people, places and food. At FoodCycle Projects people are invited to come together in a warm, safe space to share and enjoy a nutritious, three-course meal.
There are currently 63 FoodCycle Projects across England and Wales, serving over 1,400 guests and 650 volunteers every week.
FoodCycle’s meals are made fresh from supermarket surpluses. Surplus food is simply food that producers and supermarkets cannot sell. All meals are made from scratch (and only knowing on the day what you have to cook with). This challenge means that volunteers work together creatively to devise a nutritious meal in a short space of time – adding further social value to the meals.
Meat-free meals mean they are suitable for all diners, regardless of culture or religion. This approach is more inclusive, food-safe and environmentally-sustainable. Guests are also able to take away surplus meals and ingredients that are left over.
Community dining projects also offer people the opportunity to volunteer, learn new cooking skills and represent a dignified addition to the current offer of free emergency food parcels. As there are no eligibility criteria the mealtimes are open to anyone, ensuring maximum opportunities for inclusion.
FoodCycle connects communities by bringing people together to share food and conversation. Week in, week out, thousands of volunteers across the country transform surplus food into healthy, delicious meals for anyone that needs them, no questions asked. Food poverty and loneliness are growing issues, both heightened by the current cost of living crisis. By offering a warm, welcoming space to enjoy a free meal and company, FoodCycle brings people from all backgrounds and walks of life together, improving mental well-being and strengthening community spirit. FoodCycle also runs a free Check-in and Chat telephone service, where volunteers make weekly calls to anyone in need of a natter.