London culture

How To Find a Pop-up Restaurant In London (Visit London Blog)

Grub Club Supper Club Confit Comme Ca

With pop-up restaurants springing up everywhere, London’s foodie scene has never been more exciting. Not only do you get to try great food from the capital’s brightest new chefs, but you’ll meet new people and enjoy a totally unexpected evening.

But how do you find a pop-up restaurant or supper club in London? Here are a few leads to get you started:

Grub Club

On Grub Club’s easy-to-use website you just type in a day you want to eat out, a location, the number of people and any keywords… then bing! A tasty selection of options pops up. You can then filter the options by price, cuisine, diet (i.e. vegan, allergy-friendly) and even choose options that are for charity.

One to try: Summer Fish Feast (27 Jun, £35pp): Head chef Adha, otherwise known as The King of Gnocchi, serves up his well-appreciated gnocchi with seabass ragu, cherry tomatoes and burrata cheese, with other special dishes like black fettuccine with Devon crab & dill, or his famous octopus salad.

London Pop-Ups

Comprehensive blog London Pop-Ups not only lists new pop-up restaurants, but pop-up bars, shops, galleries and gigs too. The ‘London Supper Clubs’ tab lists all regular supper clubs and when they’re next happening. If you want to catch the freshest face on the blog, click ‘Open this week’ to find what’s new in town.

One to try: The Argentinian Pizza Supper Club (Saturdays, £25pp): authentic Argentian pizza in a café/gallery space off Old Street – includes dessert, half a bottle of wine and live music.

The Londonist

The Londonist publishes a monthly dedicated guide to eating on the fly: 10 Foodie Pop-Ups To Try This Month.

One to try: Morty & Bob’s (Wed-Sun): indulgent cheese toasties served from pub Off Broadway, along East London’s Broadway Market. Optional top-ups include bacon, pulled pork and avocado salsa.

The Nudge: Pop-up London

London lifestyle website The Nudge dedicates a whole section to ‘Pop-up London’, and each month picks The Best Pop Up Restaurants In London. May’s list included a five-course feast at the National Trust’s Osterley House, Roti Chai’s ‘Chaat Shack & Chai Bar’ on the Southbank, and Pop Up Barbados in, er, Dalston.

One to try: Struie Road, Clerkenwell (13 Jun, 18 Jul, 19 Sep, 17 Oct, 21 Nov, 5 Dec. £49pp) An eight-course seasonal menu with a Scottish flavour – dishes include wild boar sausage rolls with gooseberry ketchup.

London culture

10 Of The Best Frozen Yogurts In London (Visit London Blog)

Healthier than an ice cream, more exciting than a smoothie, the frozen yogurt is one of London’s favourite treats. We pick out 10 of the best places to find fabulous ‘froyo’ in the capital. Tuck in!


Located in two of London’s biggest shopping destinations – Selfridges and Westfield StratfordPinkberry is the ideally placed for a mid-shopping-spree stop-off. Froyo comes not just in the standard tub but also in a cone or even a Waffle Cookie Sandwich. While toppings include everything from the sophisticated (green tea, coffee and lychee) to the decadent (cookie & cream, peanut butter and salted caramel). Your only difficulty will be choosing which to plump for.

Snog frozen yogurt


Probably London’s best-known frozen yogurt specialist, the cheekily named Snog has branches all over town – from Soho to St John’s Wood. On its own, a pot of fat-free frogurt at Snog is just 142 calories – but how can you not add a topping when you’ve got options like crunchy granola, gluten-free brownie and fresh strawberries to choose from?


Alongside healthy portions of sushi and salad, Pan-Asian chain Itsu does a good line in frozen yogurts. Its Fro-go desserts are topped with a choice of fruity mixes or indulgent treats, like honey nut cashews. Please note, not all branches of Itsu stock frozen yogurt so check in advance to avoid dessert fail.

Yog frozen yogurt


Yog uses handmade yogurt from its dairy farm in Kent for its frozen yogurts. This ‘Hoof to Hands’ method means that it can add in its natural flavours while ageing the yogurt in the churn: things like dark chocolate, coconut and vanilla bean & honey. Try it for yourself at one of Yog’s six London branches, including Charlotte Street (West End) and Berkeley Street (Mayfair).


Like Yog, Frae’s frozen yogurt begins life on a British dairy farm (this time in Wales) – while its name (meaning “from” in old Scot) is a nod to the heritage of its two Scottish founders. With a branch at Topshop’s flagship London store on Oxford Street, Frae’s fruit-topped favourites are popular with the fashion crowd. Look out for other branches in the equally trendy Islington, Notting Hill and Chelsea.

Samba Swirl

Samba Swirl

At the very colourful Samba Swirl, you make your own menu – adding whichever toppings you want and then paying by weight. The flavours change daily but a suitably Brazilian theme runs throughout, with options such as coconut, dulce de leche and guava alongside the more familiar chocolate, strawberry and cupcake. Branches can be found in Chiswick, Battersea, Islington and Camden Town.


If you’ve got a sweet tooth, you might start salivating at some of the names of the toppings at Moosh: Banoffee Pie (banana, caramel, amaretti biscuit), Choc-aholic (warm chocolate brownie and chocolate sauce), Snow Storm (passionfruit, meringue, raspberry coulis)… Can’t wait? Head for one of its two branches (in Fulham and Carnaby Street) now!

Moto Yogo's Stan the milk van. Credit: Katie Boardman

Moto Yogo

Stan the Milk Float, as Moto Yogo’s cute electric home is known, can often be found at foodie markets like KERB at Kings Cross/the Southbank Centre and Greenwich Market. On the menu? Organic frozen yogurt crowned with delicious toppings like rhubarb crumble, organic pecans & maple syrup and (you heard it here first!) its soon-to-be-released Mexican-inspired flavour Choco Chido, made with chocolate, cinnamon and a touch of chilli. We’ll be keeping our eyes peeled for that one.


Tucked away on the third floor of London’s famous Harrods sits the Yoomoo frozen yogurt bar. Handily it’s located in the heart of Toy Kingdom, so little ones can explore and play – before being tempted away for a tasty froyo. The basic frozen yogurt comes in natural, strawberry, Belgian chocolate or Madagascan vanilla, with everything from chocolate buttons to 23-carat edible gold flakes available to sprinkle on top. Only in Harrods! Other branches of Yoomoo can be found in Westfield Stratford City, O2 on Finchley Road and Canary Wharf.


‘Your Cup, Your Creation’ is the motto at Yogland on Queenway, another frozen yogurt London fave which knows what customers like best: doing their own topping combos (however bizarre). There are even no-added sugar and high-protein varieties available, in addition to the mind-boggling selection of flavours – from the weird (cake batter, anyone?) to the wonderful (red velvet cake).

London culture

Six Things We Learned on the Eating London Food Tour (Visit London Blog)

Bread & butter pudding at The English Restaurant

East London has long attracted people from all over the world: silk-weaving Huguenots, persecuted Jews, Bangladeshi chefs… who have all made their fortunes on its cobbled streets – alongside the native Cockneys born and bred here. So where better to hold a heritage food tour?

The Eating London food tour lasts about 3.5 hours and is packed full of fascinating facts about Brick Lane and Spitalfields, hidden gems and visits to everywhere from a traditional English boozer to a Brick Lane curryhouse. Visit London went along to sample it for ourselves – and left with brain and belly delightfully full. Here are just five things we learned on the way…

1. St John does an amazing bacon sandwich

St John Bread & Wine knows a thing or two about meat – its founder is the pioneer of the ‘nose to tail’ food revolution after all. So it should be no surprise that its bacon sandwich is a real treat, and a great way to kick off the tour. Made using Gloucester Old Spot rashers, for once the delicious smoky bacon is the main event, not something to be smothered in ketchup!

2. How to spot a real bagel

While tucking into hot salt beef bagels at the Brick Lane Bagel Bar – juicy meat falling away, pickles sliding, mouths drooling – we learned how bagels are made the proper way. Unlike supermarket bagels which are steamed, real bagels are boiled before being baked. You can tell it’s not the real deal if it has the telltale grate marks on the underside.

Cheese tasting at Androuet

3. You can get a cheese wedding cake at Androuet

French cheese shop and restaurant Androuet served up some delicious English cheeses for us to try, expertly paired with dried fruits and nuts. Our attention was also caught by the photos of giant cheese wedding cakes they supply for more savoury-toothed couples. Brie-lliant!

4. It pays to look up

Our Eating London guides constantly surprised us by pointing out street art, strange buildings or quirky signs we’d missed – despite having walked around the area countless times in the past. Many times a whole new world opened up just by looking above eye level.

5. You can still buy fish & chips served in newspaper

In the 1980s, the powers that be decided serving fish & chips in newspaper was unsafe as the ink could seep into the food. Poppies in Spitalfields has ingeniously got around this law by printing their newspaper with edible ink! It’s also just been voted Best Independent Fish and Chips Restaurant in the UK at the National Fish and Chip Awards – an award well earned, after tasting their wonderfully light cod, chunky chips and piping hot mushy peas. Well worth a look.

6. There’s always room for dessert

Filled with tasty drinks and snacks from some of East London’s finest restaurants, the tour ended at Pizza East with a slice of salted caramel chocolate tart. Sprinkled with almonds and sea salt, no-one could resist scoffing down the entire slice (despite all that had come before) accompanied by a cuppa and chatter. Well, we had been walking after all – it was well earned.

London culture

London for Chocolate Lovers (Visit London Blog)

Hot chocolate

Chocolate has been a rich, delicious part of London life ever since 1657, when the first chocolate house opened in Bishopsgate.

These days, London is a veritable chocolate kingdom, home to chocolate shops, tastings, workshops, tours and even festivals. Here are some of our favourite chocolate-related activities to get you started.

The London Chocolate Festival at the Southbank Centre

The tempting (and free!) London Chocolate Festival returns to the Southbank Centre Square (behind the Royal Festival Hall) from 13-15 December. Head down to create your perfect chocolate bar, learn from the experts at the Masters of Chocolate Afternoon and, of course, indulge your cocoa cravings.

The Chocolate Ecstasy Tour

The Chocolate Ecstasy Tour is the guilt-free way to sample delicious chocolate in London – all that walking will burn off any calories, right? After enjoying a hot chocolate you’ll take to the streets in pursuit of the finest chocolate in town, while learning about the history of cocoa in the capital. There are four tours to choose from: the traditional Mayfair Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, the cutting-edge Chelsea Chocolate Ecstasy Tour, the Evening Chocolate Ecstasy Tour (including a chocolate cocktail) and the Full Day Chocolate Ecstasy Tour.

Paul A Young at Heal’s

Award-winning chocolatier Paul A Young has four stores in London, including a newly-opened shop/café at Heal’s on Tottenham Court Road. All the chocolates are handmade by Paul and his team using fresh ingredients – and the proof is in the tasting. Stop by to shop, sample specialist varieties (don’t miss Paul’s famous sea salted caramels) or take part in one of the regular workshops, such as the upcoming ganache making class on 28 November at the flagship Soho branch.

The Chocolate Museum

Chocolate has a long, colourful history in London. At The Chocolate Museum in Brixton you can discover more about its bittersweet past in the British History of Chocolate exhibition, featuring chocolate memorabilia dating back as far as the 18th century. There’s also a café and a busy programme of events, tasting sessions and workshops for all ages.

Menier Chocolate Factory

With a cosy restaurant upstairs and a fabulous theatre downstairs, Menier Chocolate Factory is a hidden gem close to London Bridge. Each set menu is inspired by the whatever show is on at the theatre, currently Candide, Leonard Bernstein’s witty adaptation of the 18th century novella by Voltaire – so expect Hungarian beef goulash and vegetable stroganoff. Or go for the a la carte menu, which features the very decadent Menier chocolate platter.

Charlie & The Chocolate Factory at Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket and the Oompa-Loompas are back in a new musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s much-loved book Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Directed by Sam Mendes, this dazzling production uses imagination and innovation to bring the world of Willy Wonka to life – from the chocolate garden to the army of squirrels. Get your golden ticket now!

London culture

Best Burgers in London

Bar Boulud burger
(Visit London Blog, 4 Jul 2013)

London has got a thing for burgers. Soft burger buns filled with thick, freshly minced beef patties, delicious homemade sauces and all matter of weird and wonderful fillings. Here we pick seven of the best burgers in London – from the cool hipster burger that comes wrapped in paper, to the gourmet burger served on fine china.

It has been known for queues to snake around the block at MEATliquor, near Bond Street. The coolest burger joint in town, the restaurant/bar specialises in finger-licking, no-frills burgers with names like Dead Hippie and Chili Dog. Stick around for a root-beer float, peanut-butter sundae or a glass of their special Home Grog. And look out for its new incarnations MEATmarket in Covent Garden and MEATmission in Hoxton.

Honest Burgers
A popular fixture at the indoor-market-turned-foodie-haven that is Brixton Village, Honest Burgers now boasts a branch in Soho to boot. The secret to its success? Doing a few things really well. Its offers three beef burger options: ‘Beef’, ‘Cheese’ or ‘Honest’ – that’s British beef, red-onion relish, smoked bacon, mature cheddar, pickled cucumber and lettuce. On the menu you’ll also find free-range chicken burgers, vegetable fritters and chips with rosemary salt. Gluten-free buns are available.

Bar Boulud
The London home of Michelin-starred French chef Daniel Boulud, Bar Boulud at the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park Hotel serves far more than burgers, but its NY Grilled Beef Burgers frequently receive rave reviews. Not surprising really given Boulud is based in the US – the Big Apple to be exact. On the shortlist: The Yankee, The Frenchie (with confit pork belly, Dijon and morbier cheese), The Piggie (with pulled pork) and the seriously posh BB (with foie gras and red wine-braised short ribs truffle).

A modern take on the classic American diner, Byron restaurants are springing up all over London – from Covent Garden to Chelsea. The Scottish beef in Byron’s burgers is minced fresh on the day of cooking and served in a “proper squishy” bun, with a pickle on the side. As well as the classic variations, you’ll find the Chilli burger, the bun-free Skinny (with side salad) and mini versions for kids. Worried about allergies? Check out Byron’s handy online allergy chart.

Burger & Lobster
As its name suggests, Burger & Lobster’s menu is pretty short. In fact it only consists of three dishes: burger, lobster or lobster roll – all served with chips and salad, all £20. This ingenious concept comes from the people behind London’s Goodman steakhouses, so they know a thing or two about good meat. There are four B&Ls so far (in Soho, Mayfair, Farrington and The City), but probably not for long…

Steak Sicilian with parma ham and buffalo mozzarella, Steak Louisiana topped with peanut butter and melted cheese, Steak Catalan with grilled chorizo, fresh chilli and tomato jam… Haché in Chelsea is an adventurous burger eater’s heaven. Although, saying that, in an interview with London burger blog Burger Me Haché’s co-founder revealed the most popular burger is actually the classic cheeseburger. The restaurant may be more French brasserie than burger joint, but you can’t beat the old favourites.

Patty & Bun
With seats for just 30 people, Patty & Bun resembles more of a mate’s dining room than a top London restaurant. But its size isn’t the only reason it’s always packed out. Inside P&B’s brioche buns you’ll find fresh beef or lamb patties, accompanied by everything from caramelised onions to buttermilk baby courgettes and cumin aioli. Well worth the wait.

African arts, culture + politics

Recipe for success


(ARISE magazine, Issue 16) Adopted from Ethiopia, raised in Sweden, made in America, celebrity chef Marcus Samuelsson has blended the ingredients of his bittersweet life and come out sizzling

Out of the kitchen to launch his latest book, Marcus Samuelsson has walked right into the fire. It should be a time for celebration, but the release of his memoirs Yes, Chef, has instead put the 42-year-old in hot water. First there was The New York Observer’s scalding critique, in which writer Eddie Huang scoffed that Samuelsson’s famous Harlem restaurant Red Rooster “fails utterly in its goal of paying homage to the neighbourhood, coming off instead like an embarrassing exercise in condescension, much like the book”.

Speaking to Samuelsson days after the piece was published, on the eve of his US book tour, he was clearly still angry and quick to disregard Huang’s comments. “I don’t look for validation. I look at our work here and our purpose here, and whether someone is going to agree with that or not it doesn’t matter. I’m still gonna be here.

“As an African, we’re used to getting jumped at left and right – we get tested all the time… I recognise when somebody tries to enter themselves into the conversation. We live in a world now where even if you don’t produce good content you can just jump in by screaming at those people who do”. He could equally be talking about another man not best pleased with what’s in Yes, Chef: British celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay. In the book, Samuelsson claims Ramsay called him a “fucking black bastard” during an enraged phonecall back in 2000. Ramsay denies the allegation, his spokesperson describing it as “completely false and extremely offensive”.

While Samuelsson says elsewhere in Yes, Chef that he has “no big race wounds”, he does recall a bully at school in Sweden asking him why he wasn’t good at playing “negerboll” (neger is Swedish for ‘negro’). “Me and my sister just wanted to be like Swedish kids but we couldn’t,” he says. “That’s why it’s so sweet just to be here [in Harlem]. When we stand out it’s because of our actions, not anything else”.


As the owner and executive chef of Red Rooster Harlem, Samuelsson has carved out a niche – bringing his own twist and glamour to the neighbourhood’s legendary soul-food scene. It’s been a long journey to the top. After studying at the Culinary Institute in Gothenburg, Samuelsson apprenticed in Switzerland, France and even on cruise ships. In 1994 he arrived in America to take up an apprenticeship at Aquavit, and a year later was made executive chef at the Nordic-inspired restaurant. Within three months he had received a prestigious three-star rating from The New York Times – the youngest chef ever to do so – and went on to win two titles from the James Beard Foundation (the Rising Star Chef Award in 1999 and Best Chef In New York in 2003). In 2009 Samuelsson reached the pinnacle of his career when he was asked to cook for Barack Obama at his first state dinner. His fame shows no sign of waning, with regular appearances on TV shows including his own series Urban Cuisine, Top Chef Masters (which he won in 2010), The Today Show and Dr Oz. Yes, Chef is his fourth book, and Red Rooster is only one of his restaurants (the others are Ginny’s Supper Club, newly opened downstairs at Red Rooster; Marc Burger in Chicago; and Costa Mesa – with Norda and Street Food in Sweden). He also has a website,, “for men who want to eat and drink well”.

Given his eventful life story, public squabbles are unlikely to concern Samuelsson too much. “My mother walked 75 blocks – that was a test in life,” he says, “A real test in life”. He’s referring to his birth mother; the woman who in 1971, in the small Ethiopian village of Meki, gave birth to a boy called Kassahun Tsegie. When he was three years old, his mother put him on her back and, with his sister Fantaye in tow, set out on the long road to the capital Addis Ababa, in search of treatment for the tuberculosis all three had contracted. Seventy-five miles later they reached the hospital – but Kassahun Tsegie’s mother died shortly afterwards. The two siblings recovered and a year later were adopted by a white Swedish couple, Lennart and Anne-Marie Samuelsson, taken to Sweden and renamed Marcus and Linda.

In a recent piece for Huffington Post, Is That Your Baby? Growing Up a Child of White Parents, Samuelsson recalled his childhood with “the original Brad and Angelina (if Brangelina lived in a small fishing town and made cabbage rolls”. “There was so much love, so much positive energy. I never heard my parents say,  ’We have adopted kids’. The minute my sister Linda and I landed in Sweden, we were their kids.” In our Big Question feature in Issue 13, ARISE asked ‘Should non-Africans be able to adopt African children?’ How would Samuelsson have answered? “It’s a complex issue and I think that sensitivity and tone are the key things. It worked for me and my sister but it might not work for everyone else… [and] as I said in the Huffington Post, maybe one day there’ll be an African family adopting from Europe.”

Despite their differences, one thing united the family: food. “We had to learn how to create our sense of family value, and food became this thing that we hung on to,” says Samuelsson. “In my Ethiopian family it could be a tribal handshake, it could be singing, it could be language – we had other ways to connect. When you are a large family you figure out what can be that connecting tie.”

In his online biography, Samuelsson reminisces about how he nourished a love for food in Sweden: “Every morning I went fishing with my dad, Lennart, and my uncles. We caught crayfish, lobsters and mackerel, and often smoked and preserved the catch. My grandmother, Helga, would gather us in the kitchen to teach us how to pickle fresh vegetables, and make meatballs, ginger snaps, cookies, and apple jam”. The legacy of his childhood is still apparent in his cooking today, where the emphasis is on fresh and local ingredients. At Red Rooster you can snack on Swedish delicacies, including pickles, cured meats served with lingonberry jam, and Helga’s Meatballs, which even Huang had to concede are “excellent”.

But on the menu you’ll also find African specialities – from coffee and tea to injera, the spongy bread that is a staple in Ethiopian cuisine. They’re souvenirs of Samuelsson’s first return trip to Ethiopia in 2000. “I got to know about myself, I got to know about different types of food and I developed an African and Ethiopian side to me that I didn’t have before,” he says. Another thing he didn’t know until his sister Linda decided to dig into the family history was that he wasn’t an orphan after all – his father was still alive and he had eight half-brothers and half-sisters. How was the reunion? “It was amazing and very strong,” he enthuses. “I didn’t know him the way I knew my Swedish father but there are other things you pick up like language, his laughter, his walk. He is a tribal leader… and my mother sacrificed herself so that me and my sister would be able go to the hospital, so I knew there was a lot of strength within my family and that has helped me each time I’ve had obstacles in my life.”

Samuelsson later travelled to 20 different African countries, including Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, South Africa, Tanzania and Zanzibar. Unsurprisingly, exploring African food was a highlight. “I stayed with families. I wanted to know it from a family point of view rather than a restaurant point of view,” he says. The trip resulted in the book The Soul Of A New Cuisine, which is full of beautiful photography, stories and recipes from the trip. Samuelsson also went on to create a pan-African menu for the since-closed Merkato 55 in New York. Would he give it another go or even launch his own pan-African restaurant? “It depends,” he says thoughtfully. “Here at Rooster we have a lot of African-inspired dishes and I feel that a lot of the dishes that I wanted to do there [at Merkato 55] I encompass in my restaurants and those dishes are very popular… I wanted to create a menu from Harlem: African-American cooking, Caribbean, Puerto Rican, Mexican food – but also immigrant food from Africa and Sweden.”


The staff at Red Rooster are as diverse as the cuisine they serve. Says Samuelsson: “Asian, black, white, Jewish, Christian… with a diverse team we’re gonna be more set up for understanding the customer and we can cook better food.” He is also helping to inspire the next generation in his role as a UNICEF ambassador and through the Careers Through Culinary Arts Program (C-CAP), an organisation that since 1990 has provided culinary training and employment opportunities for young people. Samuelsson has been hands on, taking on graduates from C-CAP to work in his kitchens. “Having my restaurant and being on TV is a platform,” he says. “Coming from where I come from you have to give back”.

With the notoriously antisocial hours of a chef and all his philanthropic activities – not to mention building a relationship with his estranged daughter, Zoe, who was raised by her mother Brigitta with financial support from Samuelsson – it’s a wonder Samuelsson has any free time. But when he does, chances are he’ll be spending it with his wife, Ethiopian model Maya Haile, who he married in Addis Ababa in 2009. “Marcus was born in Ethiopia, raised in Sweden and then moved to Harlem,” Haile told Glamour magazine six months after the wedding. “I was born in Ethiopia, raised in Holland and then moved to…Harlem. How many people have experienced those things? Right away our shared backgrounds were something we connected on. And we both love basketball.” And, of course, food. “I cook at home but so much of my time is spent in the restaurant,” says Samuelsson. “My wife cooks a lot of Ethiopian food, which is great. When I want a good Ethiopian stew I just go home and it’s right there”. In Haile, Harlem and his passion for food, Samuelsson has finally found a place to call home.


Iceland accused of bleaching waste food


(The Pavement, 5 May 2010) Staff at Iceland’s store in Bridlington have been accused of pouring bleach on waste food to deter homeless people and ‘freegans’ from eating it.

Local homeless people whom he met while researching a system to distribute food to the home- less first reported the allegations to Councillor Liam Dealtry. The former mayor of Bridlington told the Daily Telegraph: “I was mortified. They said Iceland staff had been pouring bleach and the blue toilet cleaner onto the food they would normally eat.”

The frozen food firm’s marketing director, Nick Canning, responded saying: “One of our store staff suggested to one of the freegans [people who take unwanted food] not to do it because it might have been treated with chemicals… It has never been and it wasn’t actually done.” Tania Barry, a spokeswoman for Iceland, told The Pavement: “it is not Iceland’s policy to tamper with our waste products in any way. Our waste in the Bridlington store has never been treated, and it is outside company policy to even suggest this may be the case. Our staff are not encouraged to tell people that food has been covered in bleach or tampered with in anyway.”

She added: “We are not allowed to sell any chilled products past their use-by date and it is company policy not to offer any out-of-date food to charitable causes and the suchlike as we can’t guarantee it will be suitable for human consumption.”

Mr Dealtry has now pledged to write to local shops and hotels to encourage them to donate food. He has also called for the council to set up a taskforce to help homeless people in the area.


Food Not Bombs


(The Pavement, 4 March 2010) When someone mentions free food, most of us think of a soup kitchen – perhaps a church group quietly serving cups of steaming tea. We don’t think of one of the top terrorist groups in America, yet this is the title that has been applied to Food Not Bombs, a global movement with two peaceable aims: to give food to the hungry; and to protest against war, poverty and injustice.

The first Food Not Bombs group was formed in 1980 by eight antinuclear activists in Massachusetts. Since then, the concept has spread across the globe, throughout the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia and the Middle East. There is no ‘top-down’ organisation; each group is created autonomously and simply adopts the Food Not Bombs title and consensus-based structure. Their only other unifying characteristic is that they always serve vegetarian or vegan meals, cooked using unwanted food collected from local groceries, markets and health food shops.

In January, one of the founders of the first Food Not Bombs group, Keith McHenry, gave a talk at the London Action Resource Centre as part of a world tour to mark the 30th anniversary of Food Not Bombs. Following a letter about the talk in our last issue, The Pavement went to McHenry’s second London appearance at Housing Justice’s offices in February, where we caught up with him for a chat.

Other projects
As well as sharing food with homeless people, Food Not Bombs volunteers can often be found feeding protestors at demonstrations against everything from the war in Iraq to globalisation. With their strong organisational skills and ability to respond quickly to unpredictable situations, some groups have even become unofficial emergency food providers. Food Not Bombs groups, for example, were the first to serve hot meals to the rescue workers at the World Trade Center attacks in 2001, and the first to provide food and help to survivors of Hurricane Katrina and the Indian Ocean tsunami.

There are spin-off campaigns, too, such as Bikes Not Bombs; Homes Not Jails; the community gardens project Food Not Lawns; and Really Really Free Markets, where nothing is ‘for sale’.

The main function of Homes Not Jails is to house homeless people in unused buildings. The project began in San Francisco in response to a persistent campaign to move on homeless people by the city’s police and mayor during which the belongings of some local homeless people were reported to have been destroyed and their pets put down. In protest, the San Francisco ‘chapter’ of Food Not Bombs provided food to the homeless – for which they were arrested, collectively more than 1,000 times – and began taking over empty properties. In the end, Homes Not Jails had keys to over 400 houses, and housed people in over half of them.

From San Francisco, Homes Not Jails spread, but only as far as Toronto, Boston, Baltimore and Washington DC. Why wasn’t it as successful? “I think it’s just more complex than cooking,” explains McHenry.

“It’s kind of harder to get into a building and fix it up, and I think the laws are more severe. In America, you can get [convicted of] trespassing, which could be a year or two of prison, so it’s a little more scary. Although, we’ve had nobody convicted – we’ve been arrested, but no one’s been convicted”.

However, despite a slow start, Homes Not Jails is now gaining renewed interest and, according to McHenry, several communist and socialist groups are creating similar projects in an effort to re-house people recently evicted from their homes.

“Sometimes we’ve done actions where we take over buildings [where] you’ll freeze to death if you actually stayed in them, but they’re symbolic buildings. Once, we took over these houses on a military base because there was a law that they had to give you the house if you were working for a non-profit group, that kind of thing.

“It’s much more powerful to talk about how society should be changed while actually implementing changes through direct action than it is to talk about ‘oh, wouldn’t it be great if sometime something happened that was better’. I think that makes a big difference.”

Food and politics
Food Not Bombs calls itself a movement, not a charity, a distinction that separates it from soup kitchens with no agenda other than to serve food. “We’re trying to make a point that we think the way society’s organised is just not right,” says McHenry. “That no one should really be homeless and there’s no reason for people to be homeless except for the need for economic exploitation.”

This political, grassroots philosophy often ruffles feathers – and not just those of the police: “Sometimes the government tries to get Food Not Bombs groups to become charities and says ‘oh, just don’t have the literature and banner, and then you can serve the food'”.

Occasionally the authorities go even further. McHenry describes a US policy called Weed and Seed in which food donations will be withheld if a population is not “cooperating”. This could include getting people to move out of an area so it can be gentrified. “They will say ‘we’ll give you food if you do what we say and we will not give you any food if you don’t do what we say'”, McHenry explains.

Even charities, including UK-based ones, try to get Food Not Bombs to change its agenda or name. “They often approach us and say ‘oh, you’ve got to change your name’, we can’t work with you unless you change your name'”.

Food for thought
During the Q&A session after the Housing Justice talk, McHenry defended soup kitchens, which have been criticised by some UK individuals and organisations in recent years: “if people are not spending their energy trying to find food, and struggling and starving, they have more freedom to come up with other ideas of things to do.

“And the message of just giving out free stuff is pretty dramatic, which is one of the reasons why we have a policy of giving it to anybody – whether they’re rich or poor, drunk or sober. Because in a capitalist system, free stuff kind of destabilises people’s image of what’s happening.”

However, for McHenry, giving free food is not enough – there also has to be a political message, most importantly to drive social change, but also to balance the often unequal relationship between giver and receiver. Having been homeless five times himself (and still struggling with housing troubles now), McHenry is well aware of this divide: “In America, I always felt the way that most charities treat homeless people is like they’re above the homeless… they try to make you feel like you should be really appreciative of it and that you’re kind of maybe retarded or stupid or something and that’s why you’re homeless.”

In fact, sleeping rough has made McHenry more determined and given him “a good impression of how painful it is to be homeless”. It’s also, he says, why he’s so dedicated to Food Not Bombs being a force for social change: “I don’t want to spend my days working so that everybody gets to be in a soup line – I want to spend my days working so that no one has to go to a soup line and everyone has a warm place to go to sleep.”

Could this happen by 2012, as so many are promising?

“I think we could end homelessness by 2012,” says McHenry, “but it’s going to take total undying dedication to ending capitalism, and it seems to be going to opposite direction currently. “We have to get to a point where either we have made it so uncomfortable for the owners of property that they decide ‘OK, surplus property is illegal and we’re going to just let people live in it’ or some major shifts of consciousness happen. And in America, actually that is happening… People who were diehard capitalist Republicans have lost their homes and are now seeing that maybe this political and economic system is not realistic.”

This economic system, in which a huge proportion of the budget is spent on defence, is a key bone of contention for McHenry and, as its name suggests, for Food Not Bombs as a whole – particularly in the US, and here in the UK where the defence budget is set to increase from £32.6 billion in 2007/08 to £36.9 billion in 2010/11.

The role of Food Not Bombs, therefore, is to provide “a foundation of how to work together, how to make decisions together by consensus and how to work cooperatively to directly solve problems like hunger, homelessness, transportation, energy, healthcare – things like that”.

Getting involved
Food Not Bombs is growing all the time and the creation of new groups is always encouraged. For a guide to setting up a chapter in your area, visit and read the ‘Seven Steps to Organising a Local Food Not Bombs‘.

There are groups across England, in Birmingham, Bristol, Cambridge, Exeter, Leicester, Lancaster, Liverpool, Manchester, Nottingham, Sheffield and York. In London, the Brixton and Whitechapel Food Not Bombs groups have now combined under one Hackney chapter and can be contacted at