Nourished for Nil

4.30-5.30 Most Afternoons, Karamu Road, Hastings
By Anna Soutar

It is Thursday morning, the day when we ‘over 65s’ are given privileged access to the serving counter of “Nourished for Nil” down on Karamu Road. It is over the road from the Happy Gathering Church, next to the roadside coffee van Espresso and along from the showgrounds.

Take one over-sized knobbly spud, ‘butt ugly’ a cowboy would call it.

Several folk gather well before the 10 o’clock kick-off despite the chill in the air and the threat of rain. Two at the head of the untidy queue have brought their own chairs to help make the wait more fun. Fun it is, as people greet each other.

Scrape off the skin, cut out the funny bits.

At ten, Marty in his white t-shirt and surgical gloves, opens the doors and we trickle in to the airport-style queue shaper, five winding rows offer a wider variety of chat–friends. ‘What are you hoping to get?’ ‘Spuds. You?’  ‘I got some last week. Too big I think, for the supermarket. You’d think they could do something with them …’ ‘Too lazy probably. No one wants anything that’s too difficult these days.’

The man next to me was in reminiscing mood. He remembers the thermette and the sandwich maker and pretty soon we’d made caramel out of a can of condensed milk and it was time for Marty to open the doors to the serving counter.

Cut into small chunks, drop into boiling water, salt.

We were all quite happy to stay in our queue lines, and open our bags for fruit – we don’t get bananas very often, make a good cake out of that lot – chunks of pumpkin, even frozen vegetables, oranges, grapefruit. There were an assortment of tins with dings in them, I chose a tomato and basil mixture: thanks Watties!  And spuds. Lumpy outsized, dusty grey, unloved – spuds.

Go out into the garden with kitchen scissors, select edible leaves of parsley, nasturtium, rosemary, sage, fennel.

There were even some treats at the end of the row: lindt chocolates, and pastries sweet and savoury.  ‘oh, I don’t know. I don’t really need them.’ ‘ Yes you do, you deserve something a bit special. Everybody does. And they will just be thrown out if we don’t take them. Out in land fill.’

Place smallest leaves in cup. Cup in one hand, scissors in the other, chop away to reduce leaves to tiny crumbs.

In our day, we used everything. And the kids ate everything on their plates, too.

When potato soft, mash with herbs, milk, pepper and salt.

Bag full, stepping out into Karamu Road, there is no sign of the people in the queue ahead of me. The queue has simply dissolved. The camaraderie of the gathering does not last at the end of the project.

And I am feeling slightly bewildered. I had expected to feel guilty – I pay money for what I eat. I don’t take charity. But – and this is a big but (as big as the spud in my shopping bag) this is not charity. This is using up other people’s rejected food. There is too much food these days. It is too big, or untried in its new branding (the boxes of frozen vegetables) or the wrong colour, or the trees yielded too much crop, or it will go stale soon.

At home I have a big worm farm, whose occupants enjoy eating peelings and crusts, skins and the funny bits of spuds. My rubbish is wrappings and tins, plastic bottles and meat trays. Nothing I get at the Nourished for Nil will yield rubbish. My bewilderment hangs on: surely there is a truth here, if I could work it out. Will I come again another Thursday? I think so, even if it is just for the chatter and oldie’s memories, memories which are so familiar and usually get pushed aside – rubbished.

Serve with knob of butter or cheese, or tomato sauce or last year’s chutney. Enjoy!

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