And some people say there’s no such thing as a free lunch. That’s hardly the case at the Kai Conscious Cafe in Oneroa, where volunteers serve up a regular Friday feast cooked entirely of food that otherwise would have ended up in the bin.

The cafe, based at the Sustainability Centre in Mako Street and part of the Kai Conscious Project run by the Waiheke Resources Trust, sees a team of volunteer chefs make a variety of free meals from food donated by members of the public and local businesses.

“Kai Conscious as a whole is about reducing household food waste,” says Carys Templar, who co-organises the meals.

“The cafe came about through talking to people, and getting to know the community, and simply learning how much ends up in people’s bins, commercially and in households.”

Carys and co-organiser Kathy Voyles reached out to local businesses to garner donations, and the project has taken place every Friday since its launch in March.

“It’s amazing what you can do with food that’s unwanted,” Carys says. “It’s the community vibe, too – everyone comes here, helps cook, sets up the tables and helps clean up. It’s great.”

One week, 65 people turned up for a free meal but, even then, no one went home hungry.
“The food is for anybody and everybody and we have no idea how many we’ll get,” Carys says. “It’s a free lunch. All that we ask is that you donate something, whether that’s your time or some back-of-the-fridge food.”

While the project’s primary goal is about public education in food sustainability, Carys says the cafe also provides a service for those in need.

“It’s an un-stigmatised space,” she says, “but we have been in touch with the Budgeting Service and Living Waters, who hold a soup kitchen on Mondays. The people who are in need do know about it, but we don’t know who, or ask questions.

“You don’t know what people’s situations are, so at the end of the meal we give away whatever is leftover and people leave with food.”

The plan is to continue to grow and highlight the efforts of the cafe to use food sustainably, and Carys hopes to engage the community as much as possible. “It has run without me and Kathy, so it’s wonderful to think that it can be community-run and community-led.” • Richard Jones

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