National News: Green Meals on Wheels

A food truck in Washington DC, USA. Food trucks provide provide tasty lunches and snacks for just around 10 dollars. PA Photo/Roger Crow

By Cat Turner   |   Iom Today

A food truck in Washington DC, USA. Food trucks provide provide tasty lunches and snacks for just around 10 dollars. PA Photo/Roger Crow
A food truck in Washington DC, USA. Food trucks provide provide tasty lunches and snacks for just around 10 dollars. PA Photo/Roger Crow

There’s a well-aired complaint that ‘healthy’ food is a luxury available only to the well-off.

And it’s not always unjustified – after all, in areas where large numbers of folks are on, or near, the poverty line you’ll also find obesity, and physical and mental health problems, at rates higher than the overall average for a country.

This isn’t just because fatty, salty, sugary processed ‘food’ is often the cheapest: grocery shops, fishmongers and restaurants serving healthier options aren’t always in high supply either.

I’ve found myself having to take a long walk or several buses to get good fresh local food, and that’s not always easy on an island that’s still pretty car-centric.

One idea that’s taken off in other countries is that of ‘Food Trucks’ – a solution idea to both the dearth of cooked food for those with no cooking facilities, and lack of access to healthy, local food in one swoop.

One scheme, for which the £30,000 odd startup money was raised on crowdfunding platform Kickstarter, is based around a second-hand and retrofitted fast food truck – a bit like those mobile chippies and burger vans seen at festivals – which turns up regularly to serve healthy, locally sourced meals at affordable prices in less well-off residential neighborhoods.

Of course, it’s a challenge for the owners to find fresh produce food in season right now, in these chilly climes.

There are places in the world where strawberries, bananas, lettuce, broccoli, and other produce grows year round – but the British Isles isn’t one of those places.

‘It really helps having good connections with local growers — who can keep us in touch with what’s the most affordable and available winter crops at this time of year,’ say the owners – citing also their relationships with growers working under cover or in hydroponic setups.

As local gardeners will know, getting fresh food out of the frozen ground isn’t nearly as easy, or as much fun, in winter as it is in summer: but there are options.

A decent variety of squashes, root vegetables and other hardy or under-cover veggies enables the truck to offer a decent mix in its menu.

In addition, local farmers and fishermen sell the team good-value fish and cuts of meat when they’re available.

To turn the limited winter produce options into truck-worthy entrees, the team has a trained chef on board.

In addition to the fresh offerings, they also make and sell reasonably priced preserves such as apple chutney made from local apples.

‘Funky,’ ‘local,’ and ‘fresh’ are not words typically associated with low-cost fare, though – so how can an outfit like this keep its costs down? Well – the Fast Fresh Food business plan describes its approach to food procurement as ‘gleaning,’ a term which goes back to an old testament commandment that farmers leave the edges of their crops available for the poor to pick up.

So the Fast Fresh Food truck picks up seconds and overstock from local growers, helping both itself and them. For a grower selling at a farmer’s market, it can be really hard to sell an entire of courgettes or lettuce in one or two days – but if they have leftovers and beat up vegetables, the truck team will use them.

This ‘take-whatever’s-available’ attitude is also helpful on the non-veg side.

Rather than asking a farmer for a supply of fillets, for example, the FFF team picks a price point and sees what’s available.

This can make for some quick thinking and necessary creativity in the menu, and the team use a slow-cooker and other slow-food methods to get the best out of less tender cuts!

It’s a great idea, with the potential to get food that’s affordable, quick, and healthy to people – and at the same time avoiding surplus produce being wasted. If there were one on the island, I’d use it.

But better yet – imagine if a truck like this distributed good nutritious fresh to those in real need, those who might be reliant on food banks and similar organisations.

What if, as well as (or instead of) a much-needed parcel of non-perishables, families could be given vouchers exchangeable for meals at the food truck – which the truck team could then use to buy more fresh produce? It could be a great way to introduce more good health into needy peoples’ diets, and at the same time support local producers AND prevent their surplus produce from going to waste. Triple win!