FoodCycle’s Kelvin Cheung on food waste

I’ve recently met Kelvin to a completely unrelated event and I have to admit that back then I wasn’t fully aware about what FoodCycle has been doing for over 5 years. After talking with him, we became extremely impressed by their remarkable work and goals: curb food waste, reduce food poverty, train volunteers, and build communities!

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In their own words:

At FoodCycle we want a world where communities unite so that no good food is wasted. Our mission is to build communities by combining volunteers, surplus food and spare kitchen spaces to create tasty, nutritious meals for people at risk of food poverty and social isolation.

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As we fully adhere to these values, we wanted to share with you their story, challenges and accomplishments, along with future plans in an interview with Kelvin Cheung, founder of FoodCycle or “the first volunteer” as he likes to call himself and Steven Hawkes, Communications & Fundraising Officer. Thank you Kelvin & Steven for the inspiring interview and for doing such an amazing work!!!

Enjoy reading their story and if you’d like to volunteer, fundraise or just find out more, do check out their website and follow them on twitter and facebook.

FC: Can you introduce yourself and tell us what is the story behind FoodCycle?

Hi, I’m Kelvin. Some people call me the founder of FoodCycle. I just call myself the first volunteer. FoodCycle got started back in 2008. It basically started out as a ‘research project’. Inspired by a charity in the US called the Campus Kitchens Project, we set off in finding out what was the extent of the food waste in the UK and also where were the places that people needed food. One thing led to another, and then basically once we found out about the extent of the food waste and the people in need, we simply were not satisfied with just researching about it. We wanted to do something about it. With a band of volunteers from Imperial College and LSE we got two locations started in May 2009 cooking for local charities that serve people at risk of food poverty. Once we got two locations started, more people got interested, and then we started to go to more and more places, and right now we’re in 17 locations. Obviously there are lots of stories and challenges between all that, but hey you don’t really have 5 hours do you? The main thing with FoodCycle is that it shows the power of a simple idea in spreading and also the amount of great people in the community that want to do this!

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FC: Kelvin, as the founder of FoodCycle, please tell us what were the biggest challenges when you started? What helped you the most to overcome those and made FoodCycle a reality?

Legitimacy. Who are you? Why should I trust you? How do I know this is going to work? How do you I know that you’re not going to poison someone and then that’s going to come back to me? So the first steps I did to get over this was business cards, a website, logos, pictures (taken off google images) and t-shirts. Basically kit up as if you were already real. The old saying – build it and they will come.

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FC: What has been one or two of your most memorable and favourite experiences since launching FoodCycle?

Too many to count for me. Probably in the early days speeding down a hill on a fixed gear bike with about 60 kg of vegetables and fruit attached to a trailer down a busy London road with one brake. A couple of plums flew out on the bumps, but you couldn’t stop… it was a bit of a whimsical experience that just makes you want to go ‘weeee!’. The other is just really going into a FoodCycle Hub, and each time just chatting and sharing stories with the volunteers and the customers. There are many laughs and somethings you just want to cry because you’re all enjoying a meal, and they’re sharing a story and then they say, FoodCycle has changed my life. I’m like really?? How? What do you say to that? I just love going to visit the Hubs.

FC: What are the other food-related projects that inspire you and do a great job?

Lots and lots. I would say the Stop in Toronto is a particular inspiration. A guy called Nick Saul started it and he’s written a book about it. In a way, The Stop is what we want all our FoodCycle Hubs to be.

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FC: What’s next for FoodCycle? Any future projects you’d like to share with our community?

We’ve seen over the past 5 years that FoodCycle really resonates with people – whether they like helping people in the community, love cooking, or hate waste. We want to harness this energy to create a nationwide network of projects which reclaim surplus food and turn it into healthy, three-course meals for vulnerable people at risk of food poverty and social isolation. We know the need is out there, and we believe that everyone deserves the right to enjoy a delicious meal in a warm and welcoming environment. Come and get involved if you agree! To do this we need to raise the funds needed to make sure we expand in a sustainable and effective way. A really easy way to support FoodCycle is to sign up to our Meals that Matter campaign and simply host a dinner party in aid of FoodCycle – it’s simple, it’s fun, and it really makes a difference.

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FC: A final tip for anyone who would love to start his/her own business but is too scared, or doesn’t know where to start from?

Get a bunch of friends to brainstorm, and get some ideas together, together is always more fun. Do it in your spare time, start small. Just get going one step at a time, and take baby steps and have milestones. Keep disciplined. There is always a reason NOT to do things, and other things to do… or if you don’t think you’re a ‘starter’ help someone else start theirs!!!

Leeds Hub

[Photos courtesy of FoodCycle.]

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