Jeevan Mann: Serving Glasgow's Homeless with Vegan Food
I first met native Glaswegian Jeevan at a Vegan People's Kitchen event at Glasgow Autonomous Space in April. In between chopping olives and tomatoes to make the starter for the night's guests, he told me about Food Fight, his idea for bringing simple, tasty vegan food to homeless people on the streets of Glasgow - an initiative that has gathered considerable steam in the last few weeks. I met him for a coffee a few weeks later, on a rainy June afternoon, to find out more.
A self-described Jack of all trades, Jeevan has worked in a variety of jobs tackling food and fuel poverty, as well as spending three years in Spain teaching English. A friendly and open guy, it's clear that he's passionate about two things: cooking and helping people. Food Fight represents a coalescence of the two. Realising that getting involved with existing charities or soup kitchens could involve working with animal products, Jeevan was inspired by American organisation Chillies on Wheels to start his own initiative:
'It was started by Michelle Carrera, who wanted to find some way to provide her son with the experience of helping other people, but she couldn't find any vegan soup kitchens. So what she did one thanks-giving was make a lot of food then just take it out to people on the street - the two of them just walked around and gave out food. I thought that was quite a powerful thing: it validated the idea that sometimes if you’re passionate about doing something but you can't find anything that would give you that platform, the thing to do is just go out and do it. As long as it’s within your means and it’s not something absolutely crazy, then if you've got the passion and drive, just do it.’
Another inspiration for Food Fight was Jeevan's Sikh background. He explains, ‘In the temples they have massive community kitchens. The thing about Sikhism is that no matter where you are in the world, if you are hungry, you can go to your local gurdwara, and as long as you’re respectful and follow a few customs they’ll allow you to come in and get fed on a Sunday. It’s realising that service - actually helping other people - is an important thing to do. A lot of different faiths, whether they be Christian, Muslim, and so on - a lot of them say that it’s part of what we should do as good people. I wouldn’t say we’ve forgotten it, but perhaps it’s no longer as much of a priority.'
Food Fight started in February this year, with Jeevan started making simple vegan food as well as tea and coffee in his house and giving it out free of charge to people on the streets of Glasgow. He is now able to use the kitchen facilities at Glasgow Autonomous Space, allowing him more space to cook and a base close to the city centre. GAS is also current home to Vegan People's Kitchen - an initiative that Jeevan is both involved in and inspired by.
We chat about the disconnect that exists for many people, myself included, when we see people living on the streets: sometimes, the problem just seems so overwhelming, and any attempt to help seems like a drop in the ocean. It can be easy to look the other way. Jeevan acknowledges this feeling of overwhelm with characteristic positivity - he reminds me that even a seemingly insignificant action can have positive repercussions:
'It’s really amazing to see the number of people who have that concern - we’re not all deadened to these things, we know it’s a problem - it’s difficult to think of these things because we don’t know where to start. But just having the determination to do something small, like chatting to people on the street who may not speak to anyone all day - to have a five minute conversation with someone and to get a cup of coffee, to them that could make the difference between giving up and thinking that it’s worthwhile to go on. We don’t realise how much the social isolation can really affect someone - when you feel powerless, when you feel ignored, that’s what can make people give up on even trying to get out of their situation.'
I ask Jeevan about the challenges that come with being a strictly vegan mobile soup kitchen. He says that there have been a couple of comedy moments - a pea and broccoli soup that was regarded with suspicion, and an offer of almond milk with coffee that got him some strange looks:
'Yeah, sometimes there are these wee challenges. But generally people are accepting and happy to take it. Especially if you are mindful to make food that’s generally quite simple. Some people are happy with just some coffee and a donut. Making cakes and stuff like that can be a bit more difficult, especially if they just want something that’s normally full of dairy and eggs, but it’s something that I’d like to do more of in the future. I made banana bread the other week. It was very much a rush job - I didn't have a long time to let it cool, but
people liked it, they liked the fact that it’s homemade - a lot of people don’t have the option of a home cooked meal, so to have something like that, that’s not just out of a can - that’s quite good.'
When I ask Jeevan about his plans for future, it's clear that he has a really open, inclusive and organic idea of how things might progress: ‘I'd quite like to help other people who are interested to set up branches or franchises in other cities. I’d also like to set up a proper soup kitchen night that anyone can come to, we’d have a place to cook and give out a meal, whether it be free or pay as you feel, just to bring people together and target a different area of the community, and to promote vegan food generally. The best thing to do is to keep it simple and not try and grow it in a way that feels unnatural or forced. I want to let Food Fight be something that doesn't just belong to me, it should be a community thing that anyone who’s interested can do. I know people who are interested who aren’t vegans but just want some way of helping, and I’m happy for those people to get involved, as long as they’re happy to go with it.’
So if you're inspired by Food Fight, what can you do to get involved?
‘People who'd like to volunteer can get involved through social media - Instagram, Facebook, Twitter. Send me a message, or look for the group on Facebook - each week we’ll post an event or a survey so people can indicate their interest. People can get involved in different ways - they don’t have to cook if they don’t feel confident doing that, they don’t have to be out on the streets talking to people either. Even just sharing stuff on social media, so that people can see what's happening, can make a difference.'
Instagram - @foodfight_uk
FoodFightUK - FB & Twitter.