Dining for a difference

Who could be better placed than the influential food industry to bring world hunger to the table?

For 15 years Action Against Hunger has been utilising the popularity of the food industry to raise awareness of malnourished children in the developing world. During the Autumn though, it comes out full force with its Love Food Give Food campaign, involving restaurants, supperclubs and cafes to raise awareness and cash to get hunger off the table.

Love Food Give Food is a cause that has over the years had several incarnations, including Restaurants Against Hunger and Fight Hunger/Eat Out. This current guise however, says AAH’s Restaurant Fundraiser Adam Lawrence, is the one that will stick. And what a fitting choice it is. Don’t we all love food, and wouldn’t we give it if we could?

Children in Liberia. Image courtesy of Will Beckett/Huw Gott

Children in Liberia. Image courtesy of Will Beckett/Huw Gott

The campaign could well be the perfect fundraiser for hunger, where the first world and the third world are sat at the same table. Love Food Give Food has an admirable catch-all approach – whether you’re out celebrating with friends, having a romantic meal for two or passing time with a book and a single place setting, you have the power to add £1 to your bill to treat and prevent malnutrition (funds were doubled by Government in 2012). “It’s an easy gesture, and it goes a long way,” says Adam. “There’s no one person giving us the majority of the money – it’s everyday people across the country.”

Diners can often find a table card beside their menu giving a real world example of where their money goes. But it isn’t intended as a guilt trip or a black spot on a night out: “Ultimately we don’t want people going out for dinner and feeling really bad about the state of the world. It’s not meant to be a guilt trip means of fund raising. We want it to be life affirming: you’re having a good time and you’re doing a good thing.”

Initially the campaign targeted high spend and upper end restaurants, including the Michelin starred, but recently the net has been cast wider and minimum spend reduced to £25 or more. As such, its popularity has grown; in 2012, restaurants helped to raise £240,000 – an increase from £168,000 in 2011. And it’s not stopping there. “Next year we have big plans to move to a much more UK-wide base of restaurants,” says Adam.

Measuring the circumference of a child's arms, where red indicates malnourishment.

Measuring the circumference of a child’s arms, where red indicates malnourishment. Image courtesy of Will Beckett/Huw Gott

Using our own satiation to address severe worldwide hunger is not only a clever idea, but it captures the imagination of the industry. “Professionally, restaurateurs know how much they waste, how much they spend and how much they should spend – it’s such a luxurious industry,” Adam says. “With that comes a sense of perspective and that’s what makes people really work with us because they can see that tangibility and the direct link back to what we do.”

One restaurant working with Action Against Hunger the year round is The Hawksmoor, which holds its Dream Team charity dinners, contributes 50p per chocolate and salted cup sold and donates profits from its book, Hawksmoor at Home, to AAH. Why do they do it? “Broadly it felt right for us that we would do something with food poverty,” says Will Beckett, the restaurant’s co-founder. And having been involved with the charity’s work for a number of years, Will and his business partner Huw Gott took a trip to Liberia in September to witness first hand where the money goes.

“We raised £70,000 at our charity dinner last month, and that’s a nice number, but what does it mean?” says Will. “That felt like the final connection for us. The money feels a bit more real.”

Though the pair were prepared to be horrified by their visit, Will says it left him feeling strangely positive. “It’s horrific it [food poverty] exists in the first place, but it didn’t feel make us feel distraught because you immediately see the intervention. In a way Liberia was massively positive; to see where the money went and how effective it was.”

"Plumpy nut" peanut paste. Image courtesy of Will Beckett/Huw Gott

“Plumpy nut” peanut paste. Image courtesy of Will Beckett/Huw Gott

Children under five diagnosed with acute malnutrition following a middle-upper arm circumference measurement are given a course of RUTF – Ready To Use Therapeutic Food – also known as “plumpy nut”. One sachet of this high calorie peanut-based paste is given to a child once a day for six weeks, costing only 36p a day. “It’s enough to bring them out of malnutrition,” says Will. “To me, that is the metric. It costs £15 to save a child. To me that was the effectiveness of what they [AAH] do.”

As well as diagnosing acute malnutrition and feeding the children plumpy nut, AAH gives communities an education, from breastfeeding to sexual health, to urban gardening programmes and how to start savings and loans schemes. “In Liberia they don’t have anything: sanitation and education are poor, there are no laws, there’s no access to food. Think of the absolute fundamentals of community life and the chances are they don’t have it,” says Will. But still, even with this huge lack of community and social resources, Liberia is considered a huge success for AAH because the numbers of children suffering from malnutrition has significantly reduced.

So with the support of restaurants and supperclub hosts who sign up for the Supperheroes scheme, the food industry can engage with its appeal and spread the word of a grave and important hunger issue. “When we work with food in the UK, it’s very much looking at it from a luxury point of view, not a necessity,” says Adam. “It’s something that can be viewed as an everyday item, a throwaway or waste item, or an expense. I think when you combine it with our work and how much people require food and nutrition, it very much throws things into perspective.”

  • This article was amended on 25 October 2013 to clarify that the Government matched funds in 2012 only.

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