A non-profit organisation created in Joburg in early April in response to the coronavirus pandemic is already producing more than 40,000 meals a week, and is supported by more than 300 chefs, restaurant owners and volunteers.
Chefs with Compassion went from 2,355 meals in its first week to 42,220 meals in its seventh week, and is based on the principle that no food must go to waste.
Produce is salvaged, given to chefs and kitchens to prepare, and meals are then distributed to beneficiary organisations.
The organisation is an alliance of five local and global organisations, and is backed by more than 300 chefs, restaurateurs and volunteers who sustainably produce meals for vulnerable communities around South Africa.
This has given impetus to a surplus-driven movement that will likely extend beyond Covid-19.
Chefs with Compassion was created soon after President Cyril Ramaphosa declared a state of disaster in response to the pandemic.
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NOSH Food Rescue’s Hanneke van Linge, with Thava Indian Restaurant in Norwood, began turning surplus rescued food that would otherwise have gone to waste into nutritious stews and curries.
South Africa produces about 31 million tonnes of food a year and of that, an estimated 10 million tonnes – 44% of which is vegetables and fruit – is wasted.
Chefs with Compassion produced 2,355 meals for nine beneficiary organisations in its first week.
“In a country like South Africa that is marked by both a high-calibre hospitality sector and extreme hunger, we have to find innovative ways to work together and find real solutions to our social plights,” says Van Linge.
“A project like Chefs with Compassion has long been part of our bigger picture, and the current lockdown situation realised and scaled our pilot project with Chef Philippe Frydman and Thava Restaurant faster than we could ever have anticipated.
“It is a powerful and efficient way to distribute delicious, nourishing food to where it is needed most.”
The concept of providing rescued produce to chefs and kitchens to cook for Joburg’s vulnerable communities quickly took off.
The movement became a national initiative through an alliance between NOSH Food Rescue, Slow Food International, the SA Chefs Association, Slow Food Chefs Alliance SA and Strategic PR.
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Chefs with Compassion was formed and by the first week of May, the number of beneficiary organisations grew to 28, with 11,749 meals created from nine kitchens.
Seeing unlimited potential to feed the hungry, volunteers were called for and a warehouse from which Chefs with Compassion could expand the operation sought.
The response was overwhelming – chefs all over the country got involved and the HTA School of Culinary Art provided the space for Chefs with Compassion to grow.
The SA Chefs Association provided a funding boost and, in its fifth week, production grew by 212,2% – from nine kitchens to 22, and from 11,749 meals to 36,681 meals in a single week.
Food waste warriors from NOSH Food Rescue, through their relationship with farmers, retailers and produce agents at markets, rescue produce that would otherwise have been discarded and destroyed.
This is transported to the warehouse, where volunteers sort can be used to feed people.
In week seven (May 18-24) 24,112 tonnes of rescued produce was sent to 30 kitchen hubs run by compassionate owners, where volunteer chefs produced 42,220 meals.
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Produce that cannot be salvaged for human consumption is given to pig farmers.
Chefs with Compassion is now active in Joburg, Cape Town, Pretoria, Durban and Bloemfontein, to be followed shortly by Vereeniging, Makopane, Potchefstroom and Port Elizabeth.
Coovashan Pillay, Chefs with Compassion’s national project manager, says: “Our need in these areas is for food waste warriors to champion the rescue of produce from the markets and farmers; a warehouse facility where produce can be sorted and dispatched to kitchen hubs; volunteers in the form of chefs to cook in the hubs; and hands to fulfil the warehouse and sorting functions.”
Nationally, the biggest need is for four-tonne trucks to transport the produce from the markets to the warehouses, and to collect donations of staple ingredients.
In Johannesburg alone, the cost for a vehicle to do the market run five days a week is about R5,000.
Pillay says: “Our funding will quickly run out without the vehicles to make the entire chain work, and we’re calling on logistics companies, truck rental companies and suppliers who have vehicles that are currently not being used to assist us in ensuring the sustainability of this initiative.”
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