Everybody Eats is a not-for-profit, pay-as-you-feel restaurant model with numerous locations across New Zealand that Ozone Coffee is proud to be a part of. It’s a charitable dining concept which aims to be part of solving three huge societal problems; food waste, food poverty and social isolation. The Everybody Eats team work almost exclusively with commercial surplus food which would otherwise have gone to landfill - and with the help of incredible volunteers - this food is transformed into a three course restaurant meal that the community are welcome to come and enjoy and pay whatever they can (even nothing). We caught up with Founder, Nick Loosely, to understand more about the model, the meals and the meaning behind Everybody Eats.
What was your key intention with starting Everybody Eats, and what problem or social issue were you trying to tackle?
The social issues we are trying to tackle are food waste, food poverty and social isolation. But in essence, what we are really doing is using food as a tool to solve and raise awareness to social and environmental issues.
In terms of food waste and using food that would have otherwise ended up in landfill, do you find people resistant to this idea? Are they food safety issues you have had to address?
The people who are resistant to the idea of using what they think is ‘yucky’ food we don’t know or see, because they don’t eat with us! That’s always going to be a problem, but all we can do is illustrate that the produce we use and the meals we prepare are quality. There are no food safety issues we really need to be any more aware of than a normal restaurant. Because of the nature of the food we work, with we are obviously very careful. Most of the food we access is fresh fruit and veg which is fairly straightforward and safe compared to meat, dairy and some other foods. With processed, packaged and value-added products we tend to be working with those past their Best Before date.
Have you had to break down any stigma in the community around the ‘pay what you feel’ model, and the ‘haves’ eating next to the ‘have nots’/ people eating food which otherwise would have been wasted?
We have very intentionally tried to deal with these potential problems. The reality is that our concept is novel and not everyone grasps it. There will always be the people in need wondering why there are people that don’t look like they are struggling eating ‘their’ food. And there will always be ‘haves’ not wanting to eat with us because they think they are taking food away from those in need. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. Without paying customers we cannot feed vulnerable people, it’s that simple.
Although we don’t see them, there are also those that think we shouldn’t feed people in need with food that would otherwise go to waste, because it is perhaps degrading.
I think we have done a good job of showing how good this otherwise wasted food is and what can be done with it. There is nothing degrading about eating at Everybody Eats, it is something for the whole community.
The community who dine at Everybody Eats are from very diverse backgrounds. Can you tell us what it means to you that every person who experiences hospitality at Everybody Eats is treated with respect, dignity and given the world class service they deserve?
Diversity, inclusivity and bringing people together are at the very heart of what we do. As a privileged Pākehā who loves eating in restaurants, I am trying to give everyone that experience, even if it’s just for a few hours. People like me (and probably those reading this) tend to take a lot of our experiences for granted.
For the homeless and those society has left behind, respect isn't always given. I realised this when doing my research in the UK and Spain, and thought why not invite these people to sit down and receive restaurant quality food, served to their table, by our volunteers who have put their hands up to do so.
When we ask our customers why they love Everybody Eats, they say it's the friends they’ve made around the table and how positive it is to be treated with dignity and respect by people they otherwise don’t come into contact with. Seeing people week in, week out whose spirits are raised because they feel valued and part of the community is everything.
Volunteers are key to your ensuring the success and longevity of the Everybody Eats model. Why do you think people and organisations are so keen and so excited about getting involved and giving back?
People are pretty keen on food, and are also keen to work with chefs (who seem to enjoy a degree of celebrity these days). We’ve also made most of our volunteer roles very straightforward and manageable. Our systems were designed by professionals with experience, not only in hospitality, but also volunteering. I was a little surprised at how we were and are still able to get chefs in to help!
Everyone knows chefs tend to work long, hard hours, so when top chefs started putting their hands up to help on their days off I started to ask why. In short, a lot of chefs associate more with the blue collar, everyday people they are feeding at Everybody Eats than those they are cooking for in their restaurants. This is a chance for them to use their skills to help others.
Do you see this ‘pay as you feel’ model working on a larger scale, or even being adopted globally to tackle social issues in different communities?
I think people are going to need to get used to giving and receiving different amounts of money depending on their situation. As income inequality grows and machines take over our jobs, I have no doubt there will need to be a UBI (Universal Base Income) or something similar. In the same vein, I think privileged people should be comfortable paying more to support those that haven’t been dealt such good cards.
What keeps you motivated to continue encouraging meaningful change in our Auckland community?
I fell in love with this concept whilst doing research in the UK. At the time it was the best idea I found that was affecting real change in the food system.
I am exposed to a lot of people struggling in Auckland and it’s really sad. Not only do they not have enough of the right food to eat, but some aren’t treated fairly, others don’t get on with their community or are extremely isolated. We need to find ways for people to understand each other, to build empathy and support one another. A lot of people reading this (through no fault of their own) are unaware of the realities the world, this country and in particular Auckland City faces.