Knowle shows the way back to Square Food

January 29 2016
Knowle shows the way back to Square Food

WHEN did Britain forget how to cook? Was it the introduction of ready meals, the popularity of the microwave, or the spread of fast food shops? More importantly, what can be done about it? It’s well known that the decline in home cooking is contributing to a rise in obesity, to children becoming more unhealthy and more at risk of diabetes, and to a lack of knowledge about what’s healthy to eat.

It also means people are spending more than they need to on food – contrary to what you may think, cooking from scratch can be the cheapest way to eat.

And if people don’t know what to to do with the food they do have in their fridge, it’s more likely to be wasted – leading to the shocking statistic that 7.5 million tonnes of food is thrown away in UK homes each year, most of it useable. That’s a lot of issues to address – but one pioneering group in Knowle West is seeking to do something about all of it, starting with local people.

The Square Food Foundation operates out of a bustling kitchen and offices in the Park Centre, Daventry Road – the large community centre that’s home to several groups and used to be Merrywood school.

Square Food is the brainchild of Barny Haughton, chef and award-winning food educator. He is known for several top-flight Bristol restaurants – first Rocinantes, then Quartier Vert and most recently Bordeaux Quay on the harbourside.

But the acclaim of restaurant critics could not match the zeal which Barny feels for his efforts to change the way we eat, and Square Food – a non-profit, community interest company – is his main occupation.

The need is explained by Eloise Price, the foundation’s operations manager: “We see people come through our door who have never cooked before. They might be 20 and they don’t know what a stick of celery is.”

Square Food aims to tackle most of the things that are wrong with the way we eat today. First, there are the classes that show how easy and rewarding it is to cook from scratch. 

Some of these classes serve the older population. Some are for local schools. Some are aimed at children with learning disabilities or behavioural issues. Some have helped women working in the sex trade.

Others include master classes where businesses can send employees to learn not only cookery but team building skills. The fees from these and other corporate events help fund the rest of the foundation’s work.

From the new year, there’s a project which has won funding from the Police and Crime Commissioner to help young people who may have left school without any cooking skills and may have attracted the attention of the police for anti-social behaviour. But the foundation is about more than teaching how to use a sharp knife and saucepan.

Reducing food waste and energy use and choosing healthy, good quality food is part of every message. But another important aim is bringing people together, as general manager Solomon Fubara explained: “The Back to the Kitchen class takes people through basic skills such as making dough and pizza, and in the process they interact and make friends, so it’s also a social activity.”

Clearly the friendly nature of the sessions is why some people coming back not just for several weeks, but several years.

Pete, 62, from Totterdown, decided to give the Back to the Kitchen classes a try after years of living alone and eating ready meals. Like many men, he never learned cookery at school, and for much of his life he was catered for by his mother and then his wife.

Living on his own, he didn’t cope well: “It was the expense – I was spending a lot of money on bad food,” he said.

Now he has a folder of recipes several inches thick and one of his favourite ways of spending an evening is to have friends around for a three-course dinner.

And like many others who pass through the foundation’s kitchen, he gives a bit back by volunteering in other classes.

Volunteers are vital to the running of Square Food – there are about 15, some choosing to help with the community events and some with the master classes. More volunteers are always welcome, says Solomon.

In 2016 the foundation hopes to get accredited to start issuing NVQ qualifications so local people can use their new skills  for employment. And with funding from the police commissioner to bring in more young people, the kitchen looks set to get even busier.