Food for bellies from the heart at Empty Kitchens Full Hearts

By Sharon Wilson " We expect to be here until at least Spring 2021," Says Lewis MacLachlan of Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts. Lewis is a chef by trade who has worked at some of the best restaurants in Edinburgh. When COVID hit, Mrs Bite and he had both just completed a year on a Gastronomy Masters course. As our final lectures disappeared with Lockdown Lewis sprang into action. Within record time, he had set up a non-profit which gave furloughed chefs a purpose, utilized mountains of food surplus and fed people suffering from food poverty. I am speaking to him at Leith Theatre the new home (they were previously at Dr Bells Baths and before that Bridgend Farmhouse) of Empty Kitchens, Full Hearts. The room is a hive of activity, and the numbers Lewis gives me are stratospheric. Since March 2020 EKFH has redistributed 40 tonnes of food waste. There are 200 volunteers on the books, and EKFH delivers three meals a day to around 600 people seven days a week. Circa 10,000 plus meals a week give or take. We chat about the immense challenges involved. No-one gets paid, the hours are long, the work challenging on many different levels. A chef in whites asks if salad should go with the pizza. Jenny on reception is monitoring delivery routes, another chef from a local gastropub is peeling a crate of bright orange carrots, chicken breasts are sizzling. Socially distanced tables are manned by people pouring soups into takeaway containers. Others are doing admin in a corner. It is a busy place, well organized, and the sense of camaraderie and purpose is palpable. What makes EKFH very special in my experience (I have set up community food projects and volunteered at a Food Bank ) are the chefs involved here. These are skilled people who understand food intimately. At Leith Theatre, their considerable talents are marshalled by the community for the good of the community. Lewis and I chat about the crucial things here. People have fallen on hard times through no fault of their own. Everyone deserves good quality nutritious food and respect (sourdough bread comes courtesy of Company Bakery). The food surplus otherwise destined for landfill reduces climate emissions. Everyone here is equal and treated with dignity, whether they are volunteering or in receipt of food packages. I doubt EKFH will disappear next Spring and unfortunately think it is going to be a necessity for some time to come. If you think you can help with time or money, please do so. Empty Kitchens Full Hearts need both desperately to continue doing their work.

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