10 Christmas gifts that give back
Stuck for gift ideas this Christmas? Columnist Melissa Thompson gives her tips on buying fair-trade foodie presents from businesses which also give back to the community.
It is a tough gig running a food business. The overheads of rent, stock and wages are the holes in the bucket that profits drip through. Then there’s the uncertainty of no-shows, hikes in the cost of raw ingredients and rent increases that can smash a hole in that bucket and see any profits all but drain away. And that’s without catastrophic events such as covid-19, though thankfully rare, which can be utterly devastating.
That’s why I’m always astounded when those who work in food – be it in restaurants or produce – choose to donate profits or expertise to charity. Especially now, when the importance of charitable giving has been brought into sharp focus.
After the year we’ve had, this Christmas could be different, with an emphasis on doing good, perhaps, and paying it forward rather than simply splurging for the sake of it. So this gift guide is one with heart, for the food lovers in your life. Every business – whether it’s a small chain employing thousands of staff or a one-person operation – has built charity or support into its very fabric.
Buying from them, be it a meal, a product or a voucher, directly benefits others. And that’s what Christmas is all about, isn’t it?
1. Divine Chocolate
Everyone loves chocolate, right? But not everyone gets a fair deal when it comes to the industry, worth £3.96-billion in the UK alone. Divine chocolate is a bit different. Part-owned by Kuapa Kokoo, a farmers’ cooperative in Ghana, 20 per cent of all profits go straight back to the community. They also invest two per cent of their turnover directly into farmer-led programmes, including gender justice projects focused on education, training, mentoring, and addressing land rights for women.
Who wouldn’t appreciate some LuvJus? After a trip to Tel Aviv Pride, Owen Petty founded this craft-pop business.
He wanted to bottle the fun he had felt there, and the result was LuvJus. Sales of the natural vodka-based drinks, flavoured with either pineapple, mint and jasmine, or blood orange and pomegranate, raise money for LGBTQ+ causes, with the team donating five per cent of profits from each drink to charity.
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3. Toast Ale
Bread is one of the most wasted types of food in the UK, with over 40 per cent of loaves binned.
Louisa Ziane and Tristram Stuart founded Toast Ale in 2015, which saves surplus fresh bread from going to waste by brewing beer with it, instead of virgin barley.
Toast has stopped almost 2 million slices from going into landfill. They also donate all distributable profits to charity, specifically those improving systems in the food industry.
This would mean little if they didn’t taste great – which thankfully, they do.
4. Community Comfort
Food historian and author Riaz Phillips created Community Comfort during the covid-19 lockdown, when he noticed people were finding comfort through cooking food from their roots.
And when figures revealed black people were four times as likely to die from the virus than other races, Riaz rallied chefs, cooks and restaurateurs into donating their beloved recipes.
The result is a beautiful cookbook featuring more than 100 recipes from the diaspora. It includes Original Flava brothers Craig and Shaun McAnuff’s ackee & saltfish recipe, and pan-fried pork dumplings from Chubby Dumpling’s Joe and Chantel Yeung.
All proceeds go towards the Majonzi (meaning ‘grief’ or ‘deep sorrow’ in Swahili) Bereavement Fund, supporting the families of BAME victims of covid-19 with memorials and celebrations, as well as access to bereavement counselling. You can donate and download this cookbook on the Tezeta Press website.
5. Kaleyard Cook School & Kitchen
Kaleyard is a cookery school with a conscience. It hosts cookery classes and workshops where you can learn how to cook Pakistani street food, perfect pasta or delicious dumplings.
Profit from each masterclass is pumped back into the social enterprise to offer subsidised classes to the socially isolated, children or disadvantaged. They also teach cookery in schools across Glasgow.
Their gift vouchers make perfect presents, and their online classes can be accessed from anywhere in the world.
6. Darjeeling Express
Even before Asma Khan appeared on Chef’s Table, propelling her to international fame, she ensured a proportion of profits from her restaurant, Darjeeling Express, went towards the Second Daughter’s Fund.
She set up the fund to counter the disdain for ‘second daughters’ in parts of India. Where sons are preferred, daughters – especially those following the birth of another girl – are almost lamented.
‘No girl should ever be made to feel like a burden on their families,’ says Asma. ‘They deserve the same opportunities and celebrations.’ The money raised goes towards celebration packages for the births of ‘second daughters,’ and supports them throughout their education. Buy Asma Khan's book for the perfect foodie gift: Asma's Indian Kitchen: Home-cooked food brought to you by Darjeeling Express.
7. Second Shot Coffee
Second Shot Coffee aims to tackle ‘homelessness one espresso at a time’ by training people affected by it in the art of coffee-making.
Founder Julius Ibrahim adopted the business ‘surprised’ that more wasn’t being done about the issue. The shop builds skills and confidence, preparing trainees for long-term employment elsewhere.
They also operate a ‘pay it forward’ scheme, where customers can pre-pay for food and drink for people on the streets to claim.
For every breakfast bought at Dishoom, they donate the cost to two charities aiming to combat food poverty in the UK and India.
Magic Breakfast ensures vulnerable children in the UK have access to a healthy breakfast, such as porridge, bagels and low-sugar cereals. More than 300,000 meals have been provided so far.
The restaurants also support Akshaya Patra, an India-based NGO that prepares over 13,000 lunches for schools in India every day. For many of the children, it will be the only full, nutritious meal they eat a day. Buy the restaurant's cookery book for a foodie friend, Dishoom: From Bombay with Love.
9. Luminary Bakery
Luminary Bakery creates amazing bakes to help disadvantaged women.
Famed for its afternoon teas and letterbox brownies, they train and employ women who have survived homelessness, domestic violence, abuse and trafficking. They work with women for two years to teach skills, including food hygiene, budgeting and stress reduction, which they can then use to build a career. Since their 2014 beginning, 66 women have been supported.
They sell gift vouchers for celebration cakes, and their postal brownies can be sent anywhere in the UK mainland and make a perfect gift.
10. Ruthy’s Best Shito Sauce
As a child living in Ghana, Ruth Baidoo would wander the vibrant markets with her grandma. Recipes would be passed down through the generations, laying the foundations for Ruth’s small-batch sauces, which blend natural ingredients including hot spices.
Her shito sauce is her signature, a chilli-based sauce eaten throughout Ghana.
A percentage of the profits go towards SpeakOut, a programme Ruth founded to help women affected by sexual violence. Ruth sells her sauces through her Instagram shop, @RuthysBestSauce, or she can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Melissa runs food and recipe project Fowl Mouths. In 2014, she started a supper club serving Japanese comfort food that eventually grew into a successful pop-up which only ended after the birth of her daughter in 2018. She’s been a vocal advocate for the promotion of black and minority ethnic people in food, and now provides advice on all aspects of the industry. @fowlmouthsfood
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