An environmentally-friendly Pop Up shared meal beats Fine Dining hands down, says the Ecologist's Ethical Foodie Tim Maddams
THE ETHICAL FOODIE - Try A Community Pop UP
20th December, 2016
The local food revolution, its not only under 'weigh', it's kicking ass at last and Pop Ups are both a great addition to the ethical foodie scene and more environmentally friendly than energy-sapping restaurant premises. Give them a try says chef TIM MADDAMS
There is something very special about bringing people together to eat and it's something mostly missing in your standard restaurant. It's the sense of togetherness that's so real, so human and so important here
You will undoubtedly have noticed that the phrase "Pop-Up" has become more widely used of late. When I was a lad this was simply an extravagant way of illustrating a storybook in 3D now though it is just so much more. I have heard of all sorts of Pop Ups from bakeries to discos and beyond but the most common type of occasional event that the term has come to represent is the pop up restaurant. The story is one of interest to me as it reflects I think a simmering dissatisfaction with the norm - a desire for something different, that can defiantly be a force for good. Despite the success of the Pop-Up events we see as commonplace these days this is by no means a new idea.
Occasional dining events have been around forever. When I was a youngster the Church was always hosting events like this - a few quid for a full on three-course meal - although of course in those days it was far from trendy and always a daytime thing. I also remember cooking risotto, pasta and home-made ice cream in an old foundry on Old Street in east London, a long time before it was cool to do such things, which just goes to show a good idea can run and run.
There is something very special about bringing people together to eat and it's something mostly missing in your standard restaurant. It's the sense of togetherness that's so real, so human and so important here. We lead busy, compartmentalised lives these days, with most families even not sitting down for a shared meal together more than once or twice a month, let alone extended family, friends and neighbours. There is something more to this though, and that's the fact that when you do all go out as a big group of friends and family to a restaurant and eat together, you don't usually share the same meal. For me that's where communal dinning events and Pop Ups have the key advantage. When you do sit down as part of a group and share a meal that is the same for everyone you immediately have common ground - you are sharing an experience, you may not love it, you may not like it even, but that's ok. You have been fed, you have stopped, connected with the people around you and that in itself is a good thing, and good for your sense of wellbeing too.
Aside, though, from the humanist, hippy claptrap I find myself indulging in there are other more measurable positive effects of Pop Ups, particularly when they are all about the event, rather than just another platform for the chef's ego. More and more, we are seeing these Pop Up events providing a platform for connecting local producers with other local producers, and more than that, with their own communities. Pop Ups come in all different shapes and sizes and cater for most tastes and diets too.
And it's not just dining events that are popping up in brilliant public spaces and community buildings. Farmers' markets are getting together and networking their products by harnessing the power of the Internet and setting up virtual farmers' markets where you can then collect your order from a local Pop Up hub. This idea is growing in strength and reach too with the company Food Assembly being up there as the forerunner.
So what of the Pop Up eating events? Well, there are lots to choose from but I really like to stick to the more meaningful ones - anything with a little extra value, a good cause behind it, maybe a speaker too to give a little speech on one foodie issue or another, maybe even a fundraiser for a specific charity.
It strikes me as a very environmentally sensible way of doing business. When we think of food miles we tend to think about the distance the food has travelled to the restaurant, but how about the miles that the customers travel to eat at the restaurant? With local Pop Ups you can sample different food from different chefs and products from different farms without having to make a long trip. If the event is local you can walk to it and that is a big plus in terms of carbon footprints right? Then there are other things too, like not having to consume resources to heat and light a restaurant that may well remain mostly empty many nights of the week. And what about the plates and cutlery etc.? For most pop ups this kit is either provided by the venue as part of the hire fee or it is hired from an event hire company - in either case this limits the amount of crockery and cutlery needed and so is lower in impact than opening permanent premises.
It's also a lot easier for a young creative chef to set up some regular Pop Ups than it is to get into restaurant premises with all the high costs involved. And as a chef, it feels better to me than being stuck in the same stainless steel windowless vision of hell that is most professional restaurant kitchens.
All around I think the majority of Pop Ups are a very good thing just so long as they serve good quality local food and are more than just an expression of vanity for the chef. Why not pop along and try a few out? Who knows you may find a new supplier just down the road you never knew about who grows just the best spuds, or even meet your next best friend.
Chef Tim Maddams is the Ecologist's Ethical Foodie writer and the founder of the Hall & Hearty community pop ups. He will be cooking for the United Nations World Food Programme Healthy Not Hungry dinner in London on 25th January 2017 and in his own words 'scrounging all the ingredients.'
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