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Theodore Roosevelt was a man who knew a thing or two about overcoming adversity. He also knew that everyone needs a helping hand from time to time.
At Cook's Night Off we cook delicious, home-delivered dinners. Using Roosevelt's words as a guide, we asked ourselves how this can help make the world a better place.
What we have is food. What we can do is to feed hungry people. And we can do that right here is our local communities.
Too busy to cook. Wanted to help others. Started Cook’s Night Off.
This story has its beginnings many years ago, when I got home from work late one night, feeling frazzled and tired, I spent a fruitless ten minutes starting into the fridge and the cupboards wondering how to make a dinner that was healthy and delicious, where the only ingredients needed were dried up pasta, half a block of butter, random assorted condiments and some very dubious looking celery. Oh, and of course, beer. We were flatting, there was always beer!
I wisely gave up (you would too, if you’d seen the celery!) and called the local pizza delivery company. We would have dialled up better food if we could, but if you wanted home delivery, then the only choices were pizza and maybe, depending on where you lived, a local Indian or Thai restaurant. My flatmate didn’t like Thai and the man at local Indian restaurant (who was quite lovely, by the way) had a menu with some very disconcerting spelling choices and I couldn’t order there without dissolving into fits of giggles and making a complete dick of myself. So . . pizza it was.
“Oh”, said the operator. “You qualify for a free garlic bread”.
“Sweet! What did we do to get that?”
“Since you moved in to this address, you’ve bought eighty pizzas from us.”
*choke, cough, snort*
“Umm, so what will we get if we get up to a hundred pizzas?”
“We have a t-shirt for people like you.”
*people like us??? You mean hungry and don’t like to cook???*
In my defence, there were lots of us in the flat (okay, just two of us, don’t judge me, people!), and we had friends over a lot for pizza and beer. Did I say, a lot?
Fast forward about fifteen years, the world has changed in so many ways, and mine with it. The flatmates are long gone, replaced with kids and dogs. The fridge is better stocked and I do love to cook great dinners, but I have so much less time to do it. One thing that hadn’t really changed though, was the range or quality of freshly cooked meals that you could get home delivered.
And so, the idea which had been bubbling away in my mind since all those flatting/beer/pizza-fuelled days ago, began to take shape. I knew that if it was to succeed as a business then it needed a solid foundation, so I started by designing a comprehensive marketing survey and getting that thoroughly researched by a team of experts (okay, okay, it was a focus group of one – me. Actually, more like one and a half, if you count my mum calling out suggestions from the couch).
Next, I made a checklist of everything that the *ahem* focus group wanted:
Real ingredients – no chemicals, additives, anything processed to within an inch of its life, or numbers in the ingredient list that look like the binary code for genetic mutations
Fresh food – not frozen, dehydrated or injected with enough preservatives to still be edible after a nuclear apocalypse
Delivered to my door for the days/nights/weeks when I run out of time to do grocery shopping
Meals that are exciting enough to suit the grownups’ tastebuds but not so exotic that the kids won’t eat them
Different menus all the time so we don’t get bored with eating the same food over and over (like we do when I’m in charge of cooking)
Plenty of choice so that we can decide what meals we want
A “set and forget” way of ordering, so that I didn’t have to remember to do it every week
(Here’s what having to remember to order each week would look like in our house – go online, get momentarily distracted by checking emails and Facebook, try to remember the name of the delivery company, Google it, stop to let the dog out, find the website, check out the meals, stop to let the dog back in, try to remember who likes broccoli and who hates peas, stop to look for a mermaid Barbie because apparently the world will end if it’s not found immediately, check out the meals again because now I’ve forgotten what they were, decide what to order, look for the credit card, stop to arbitrate in a land rights dispute that has erupted over the fort that’s been built in the lounge, find the credit card, and then place the order. There has to be an easier way!)
I was also very clear that I wanted to build in an element of “giving service”. Life since the flatting days of the eighty pizzas has been a real roller-coaster for me, as life is for most people. I’ve had wildly exciting success where I could hardly sleep for days with excitement, traumatising lows where for days I could barely stop crying long enough to uncurl from the foetal position on the floor, and everything else in-between.
I know what it’s like to have to rely on help from family and friends during tough times, and the crippling emotions of shame and guilt and helplessness that go along with it. I know how good it feels to be able to help someone when they need it most and the joy and the dignity and the love for humanity that goes with giving.
I don’t pretend to understand all of the complex and varied societal issues that cause poverty and hunger. I certainly don’t claim to be able to solve them. Our communities are fortunate to have so many smart, caring and dedicated people who have devoted themselves to that very task. But, two of the most fundamental of human needs are food and shelter, and those needs are both immediate and vital. They are needs that can’t wait for policy changes or trickle-down economics. As individuals, there are plenty of ways that we can help others in their time of immediate need, while those smart, caring people work to make longer lasting changes.
So, using Theodore Roosevelt’s words as a guide, the question is - with what I have, right here in our local community, what can I do to help?
I can feed hungry people.
And that, boys and girls, is the story of how Cook’s Night Off was born.
And just in case you’re wondering, we moved out of the flat sitting on a total of 98 pizzas, so I never did get that t-shirt.