Lets Eat This: the movie live from Leith

It’s a sunny autumn morning with just a hint of challenge in the air. Today’s the day for Lets Eat This Food Extravaganza, a bold experiment aiming to show that leftover food needn’t be chucked in the bin but can be turned into tasty meals instead.

So Meena ManchooBhana and Alice Hazie Purves from the World Kitchen in Leith have arrived with samples of typical ‘foodwaste’: stale bread, potatoes, cabbages, carrots. And lots of spices.  They both learned to cook with mothers and grandmothers in countries where food is never thrown away. Indeed, Meena is planning to make spicy potato patties from one of her mother’s recipes. Oh, and by the way, her mother will be watching her.

We pause to let that reality sink in.  It’s a remarkable thought simply because here is Meena setting up her cookery demo in a church hall in Leith, while her family are gathering to watch her on a computer screen in South Africa – if our wifi connection holds.

“Mum has told Dad he has to be back home from work early,” says Meena with a smile, kneading a dough of bread and mashed potato flavoured with herbs and spices.

We sometimes say – not altogether jokingly – you can travel the world without leaving Leith. (After all, World Kitchen in Leith is a product of the most multicultural part of Scotland’s capital). Now we are asking the world to come to Leith instead. To be precise, into the hall of the poetically named St Mary’s Star of the Sea, an airy space rapidly filling with scent of coriander, cumin and mustard seed.

World Kitchen in Leith banner outside St Mary's Church Hall

How did it happen?  This is a question I ask myself at every new WKiL adventure and there have been many since that rainy Leith Festival day in 2009 when WKiL drew enthusiastic crowds to a steaming stall and I found myself beneath a leaky gazebo kneading Scottish potato scones to go with Mridu’s Indian chutney.

The answer is always the same: it’s hard to say ‘no’ to a creative idea involving good food.  This time the idea came from Harriet Cross of Himalayan Centre for Arts and Culture which is dedicated to helping local people reduce waste and cut energy bills.  How about a cookery demonstration using left over food?

Almost 50% of the total amount of food thrown away in the UK comes from our homes. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year in the UK, andmore than half of this is food and drink we could have eaten. Love Food Hate Waste

WKiL took no persuading. Somehow – as reported in last week’s blog – the idea grew more ambitious at each planning session.  How about asking people to tweet a cooking challenge based on their leftovers? How about live streaming the event to reach people who couldn’t be there in person?   As it happens Dougal Perman of Inner Ear has experience of streaming public events using mobile technology to create internet connections. It’s a great way of increasing audiences and prolonging the life of the event.

Which is how, this sunny Saturday, our cooks come to be facing the cameras with a friendly audience in front of them and an unknown number of viewers tuning in online from far away (James Thomson of Melt is also filming the event for a video documentary about the work of the Himalayan Centre).   Cool as cucumbers, though there are no cucumbers on today’s menu, they all seem to be taking it in their stride.

Gavin coaxes carrots into a pan while Dougal films

Gavin the chutney chef

“Perhaps I should have brought a bigger pot,” says Gavin McNab, one of the Himalayan Centre’s volunteers, cheerfully coaxing a kilo and a half of carrots into a stainless steel pan to demonstrate his aromatic way with chutney.

Over to Meena. The camera focuses on her (mum’s) potato patties sizzling in a pan, while Himalayan Centre’s Victoria Briones, hands round samples for tasting.  (Listen carefully when you watch the video, you will hear the audience response: “Mmmm”.)

Alice rustles up a delicious African curry of cabbage braised with carrot and peanut butter which soon disappears at lunchtime. And cabbages feature again in the tweeted challenge met by Meena in the final demo. What would she make with cabbage, kale and carrots?   Her answer is a Gujarati Sambharo – mustard seeds, chilli and curry leaves are tossed in hot oil, shredded veg added, salt and sugar stirred in.  That soon disappears. As does the chutney too.

Meena, Alice and Agnes answer questions from the crowd

Meena, Alice and Agnes (from the left) answering questions 

In fact there’s absolutely no food to throw away after lunch (it includes excellent rolls provided by local caterers Rock Salt).  And vegetable peelings are transported across the road to make compost in Leith Community Croft.

Thanks to everyone involved for making a day of experiments into such an enjoyable community event – to the helpful staff of St Mary’s and the lovely volunteers of the Himalayan Centre, to the enthusiastic audience of all ages asking questions and sharing ideas – and to the silent majority watching online.  As we were clearing up, Dougal checked his Livestream channel statistics and found that there had been 65 viewers watching in real time (more than the number who attended in real life) from elsewhere in the UK, the US, New Zealand, Australia, Ireland – and, of course, South Africa.

PS: The video is available to view on Livestream.com/innerear/letseatthis on demand any time – and the audience is still growing.

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