Wednesday 13 April 2011

The Food Chain

Did you know that about 85,000 people or more are living with HIV in the UK? And that these are people from all walks of life, wealthy or poor, gay or straight, men, women and children? Did you know that being HIV-positive does not mean that you have AIDS? That it is only called AIDS when you show actual signs of being sick? Did you know that being tested HIV-positive no longer means a death sentence and that people with HIV can live a long and normal life when watching their health and taking medicine? Did you know that eating healthily and getting exercise can help prevent the outbreak of AIDS in an HIV-positive person?

Why do I know all this? Today, I would like to tell you about The Food Chain. Some of you may already know that Marco and I are both volunteers for this charity and that I have been volunteering for 3 1/2 years and bugged Marco long enough for him to finally sign up last year, too. Bless him!

I chose to volunteer for The Food Chain because I think that too little is done to make people see that the spread of HIV is a very real problem, not just in the third world, but also in developed countries - and because it involved one of my favourite pastimes, cooking.

The Food Chain has established a network of volunteers who prepare and deliver a Sunday lunch and dinner for people who have just gotten back home after having to spend time in hospital due to illnesses related to AIDS. The Food Chain also provides courses on nutrition and food preparation for HIV-positive men and women and delivers groceries to some households.

The point of providing recovering patients with food on a Sunday is to get them interested in eating well, helping them recover & gain weight and educating them about their nutritional needs. A lot of the individuals and families we cater for are very poor and are not fully able to provide for themselves due to their circumstances and sickness. The cooking happens in four professional kitchens that cover the North, West, South and East of London. The food is being delivered directly to the recipients by a fleet of volunteer drivers.

Marco and I volunteer as kitchen assistants about once a month. This means that we will get to our nearest kitchen at 8 in the morning and get briefed by the lead cook about what's on the menu. There will always be a hearty lunch and dessert and a lighter meal for the evening, costing no more than £3.60 a head. Then we don an apron and a sexy hair net. Together with the other kitchen volunteers, we will chop, and stir and season for a few hours and then assemble the meals in take-away containers that will be loaded into hot and cool boxers for the drivers to take on their routes.

We cook for over 70 people, cater to special need eaters like vegetarians or coeliacs and also provide traditional foods for the service users of African or Caribbean heritage. If we are lucky, there will be leftovers and we can all sit down for lunch after our busy morning, and we usually get to go home to enjoy the rest of our weekend at around 12:30ish.

I love doing these kitchen shifts. Apart from the knowledge that I am improving somebody's day by feeding them something delicious, I like the spirit in the kitchen. It feels special to work in a group of like-minded people and to achieve a smooth service. I have met so many lovely volunteers from all corners of the world, and there is always something to talk about.

I have learned a few new cooking techniques, like how to section an orange or how to make garlic paste. I also often get inspired by the food we cook. I have asked quite a few lead cooks for the recipe for a particular dish and have come away with great ones for rice pudding, pea falafel, banana bread or a potato & celery bake, only to name a few.

I hope that this post will raise some awareness about HIV in the Western world and will inspire you to maybe look for a charity that you would like to give your time to, if you are not already involved with one. All I can say is that I agree with the notion that even though charitable work should be an altruistic activity, I also enjoy it for truly selfish reasons like fostering my love for cooking, meeting interesting people and to have plain old fun!

If you are interested in becoming a volunteer, there are many websites that help you find a suitable charity in your area. Try searching for "volunteering" or "volunteer directory" and you should be able to find some worthy causes.

© Annika - All The Live Long Day (unless otherwise stated)

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