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Feeding the community

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A number of student societies at the University are taking an interest in the food on our plates and helping ensure everybody has some…

The University’s DNA includes a deep-rooted allegiance to Edinburgh, which it expresses through its values, including a commitment to the interests of the city and to benefiting the community, and its vision of making the world a better place.

Our students play a fundamental role in this. Many are active and engaged members of the city’s community and across the University there are examples of student societies and student-led activities reaching out to and helping those in need.

Food, for example, is one area in which multiple student activities have recently focused.

Slurp at work in the kitchens


There are more than 12,000 people in Edinburgh alone on a waiting list for a one-bed council property and someone in Scotland becomes homeless every 18 minutes. Student-run social enterprise Slurp works with Streetwork’s Edinburgh hub to support people in the city who are affected by homelessness.

The hub is a communal space where people in difficult circumstances can access basic amenities and receive support from trained staff. Slurp uses the hub’s kitchen to run a bi-weekly cooking session where their 15 volunteers cook side-by-side with service users to prepare and serve more than 50 hot meals to those most in need.

Students Lucy da Costa and Emma Matthews are Slurp’s co-directors. Lucy says their approach is intended to create an inclusive and engaging community environment: “Our cooking sessions are facilitated with the aim of creating an inclusive environment where people can enjoy light-hearted informal conversation.

“We invite people into the kitchen to cook meals alongside us and we serve the meal to the wider community using Streetwork’s services that day. There is absolutely no pressure for service-users to commit their time to future sessions. We arrive at Streetwork at the same time on the same days each week and whether people choose to join us in the kitchen is entirely their choice.”

Slurp co-directors Lucy and Emma
Slurp co-directors Lucy and Emma


Slurp working in the kitchen

As well as providing relief to those in need, Slurp works alongside professionals, with advice from those with lived experiences of homelessness. They’re campaigning and educating the community to raise awareness of the causes of homelessness and the misconceptions surrounding it.

Emma explains: “Our main purpose is to engage with people who are often ignored or ostracised within society. We are keen to foster a greater sense of community between the student population and individuals affected by homelessness in Edinburgh.

“With this in mind, we also try to break down some of the stigma and misconceptions attached to homelessness as an issue by highlighting the systemic issues and root causes which can lead to individuals becoming homeless in the first place. These include adversity experienced during childhood, poverty and a lack of affordable housing and support systems. By raising awareness of such issues, we hope to work towards bridging the gap between those affected by homelessness and the wider community through our outreach work.”

Their recent campaign marked World Homeless Day by contrasting the views of the student community on what home means to them with its importance to someone impacted by homelessness. Home came from an original idea by Slurp’s Lena Swedlow, with videography by Nick Siegrist:

Slurp has already served more than 2,000 freshly cooked meals and redistributed more than 40kg of food that would otherwise have gone into landfill. They’ve bought and handed out flasks to rough sleepers across Edinburgh, and made up Christmas gift bags of donations that included festive snacks, toiletries, stationary, socks, and hats. Their activities are paid for through fundraising and the sale of merchandise.

Find out more about Slurp.

Buy Slurp merchandise.

A person holds up a Slurp gift card

Cooking Without A Cooker

Cooking Without A Cooker cover

A team of third- and fourth-year medical students has written a recipe book designed for people experiencing food poverty and homelessness and living in temporary accommodation.

Cooking Without A Cooker includes recipes for cheap, nutritious meals made using accessible and seasonal ingredients, such as those commonly found in food bank parcels, and with only limited equipment.

The book has been written by students Alex Mazilu, Anya Tan, Jasmin Hart-Brooke, Jordan Dewart, Prithi Natarajan, Sandra Sam, and Stuart Chalmers. It features meals they designed themselves, that can be made using just a kettle, toastie machine or microwave.

Anya Tan explains: “There are a lot of people who are homeless and there are people at both ends of that spectrum. This book is aimed at people living in temporary accommodation, hostels or B&Bs – places like that.

“People experiencing homelessness are a very neglected part of society. Though there are books aimed at trying to create healthy meals or nutritious, quick, easy meals, there’s nothing really geared towards people who don’t actually have access to cooking facilities or even something you might take for granted like a fridge or a freezer. People in these situations don’t have those, so we’ve created a very specific book for a part of society that people don’t really think about that often.”


Jordan Dewart says the group soon realised they had identified a need almost no one else was meeting: “We found there’s actually more or less no resources like this available. That was a little bit daunting at first because there was no template or script of how to do it but ultimately the lack of resources and of anyone seemingly trying this before means that we could probably have a bigger impact.

“Certainly, for me, the main goal was to provide a resource that filled a space that nothing else was filling. Malnutrition and food poverty is such a major issue and we just didn’t feel that it was being adequately addressed.”

The book was produced during lockdown, which presented its own difficulties. Sandra Sam said the group tapped into Scottish homelessness charities, including the Cyrenians, to ensure the project stayed on track: “One of the biggest difficulties we found with Covid was the fact that we couldn’t actually go and speak to people who were experiencing homelessness.

“It was really helpful to have these online meetings with the Cyrenians, where we could speak to someone who had actually experienced homelessness and get their insight into what we were doing. Those meetings were super, super helpful and we found that they formed quite a good base for our recipe book.”

Cooking Without A Cooker was published this summer and the group has already been contacted by food banks and community hubs interested in distributing it in their area. They hope to look at the possibility of scaling up production and circulation again this year.

The book is currently available in print, by request from Edinburgh Local, and online.

Email Edinburgh Local.

Read Cooking Without A Cooker.

Planetary health meals

On campus, the Food Security and Sustainability Society kicked off the new academic year with the launch of its Planetary Health Meal Plan – a month-long collection of recipes created to be affordable and easy to follow, yet nutritious and environmentally sustainable.

The society started with the student community, rolling out a trial designed to change eating behaviours, promote local shopping, and encourage greater health consciousness and environmental awareness.

Julian Mashingaidze

Julian Mashingaidze, President of the Food Security and Sustainability Society, says their plan is designed to benefit both the individual and the planet: “The Planetary Health Meal Plan is based on the report of the EAT-Lancet Commission on Food, Planet, Health. The report states that a strongly plant-based and low red meat diet is healthiest and best for the environment from a sustainability aspect for the planet.

“What our society is doing, is promoting healthy and sustainable eating for one month at the start of the academic year. This is especially relevant as students coming in to university are often exposed to unhealthy fast foods. There is also a harsh reality that a lot of students come without knowing how to cook or where to find sustainable stores to shop from.”


Planetary Health Recipe Book cover

The initiative is a partnership between Julian’s group and Dundee University Medical Society and has been backed by a Scottish Universities Insight Institute grant.

The Society promoted the Planetary Health Meal Plan with events including a virtual cook along during Welcome Week, an essentials meal box giveaway, and by sharing recipes on social media. They also worked in collaboration with the University’s Accommodation, Catering and Events team.

“We have been in contact with catering and some parts of Residence Life, who have provided a lot of support around the launch of our meal plan,” Julian says.

“We have gotten catering to incorporate a few of our recipes within their own meal plans, which has been amazing.

“Our hope is to do another promotion the same time next year or during the second semester if there is particularly high appetite from the student community. We see this as a catalyst to long term behavioural changes that we think are essential to the health of the student body and the environment.

“Our main aim is making people more conscious of their food choices and the impacts they have on the environment, their bodies and the local community’s economy.”

Find out more about the Planetary Health Meal Plan.

Hearty Squirrel

Also focusing on the University community is The Hearty Squirrel Food Co-operative, a student volunteer-led and not-for-profit food cooperative and social enterprise. Hearty Squirrel works in partnership with Whitmuir Organic Farm, Garveld Bakery and dried goods cooperative Greencity Wholefoods to access local, organic and affordable food, sourced from ethical suppliers.

Ella Taylor, President of Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative, said: “We are an example of small-scale, community led change makers. Although our initiative is small, it draws on a global vision for food sovereignty and the importance of local food economies that can be replicated widely.

“The Hearty Squirrel Food Cooperative is a starting point for what we see as food justice and an empowered community of consumers, producers, and food lovers everywhere. Our goal is to make it easy, accessible, and affordable for people to eat local and organic food on a weekly basis.

“We hope to facilitate closer relationships between people and the food they eat, whilst making sustainable food consumption accessible and communal. We seek to generate conversations about sustainable food systems, local food economies, and the power of individual and collective consumption patterns.”

Hearty Squirrel's stall


Hearty Squirrel’s six members and up to a dozen volunteers run a weekly food stall on campus. They also promote and educate on food sustainability, run food workshops and social events, and support other groups and suppliers.

Committee secretary, Julia van Ryneveld explains: “We’ve held some events, such as a tomato-planting workshop, and attended panel discussions with other societies. Recently, we created a ‘zine about communal eating – we hoped to share some of our tips and tricks on how to buy and consume food together as a way of reducing food waste and costs and encouraging a culture of sharing. We hope to run more zine-making workshops this year, as well as potlucks where we’ll discuss the benefits and challenges of seasonal eating and local food consumption/production.”

You can get find out more and get involved with Hearty Squirrel.

Hearty Squirrel committee secretary, Julia van Ryneveld
Hearty Squirrel committee secretary, Julia van Ryneveld

Image credits: Thanks to Slurp, Cooking Without A Cooker and Hearty Squirrel Food Co-operative (Julia van Ryneveld, Nat Entwistle and Juliet Compagnon).

Additional photography by Sam Sills, Whitedug Photography. All applicable Covid-19 guidance was followed at the time of photography.