What if there was a special place, right here in Lambeth, that made healthy food and activities so easy and enjoyable that your children could do it? Surprise, this place exists! It’s called the Healthy Living Platform and it is one of South London’s best ‘hidden gems’. Normally from their base on Lilford Road in Brixton, the Platform would “bring people together to help them create healthy and sustainable lifestyles,” with a variety of cooking workshops, social and physical activities. They transformed parents into food ambassadors, offered free fruit and veg bags, and supported new mums and families with new babies. In our Covid-adapted world, however, they’ve found different and interactive ways to keep their community together while still providing nutritious meals and programming. This includes teaming up with veggie powerhouse chef, Mandy Mazliah, to dish out delicious, colourful take-away boxes using surplus veg. When Local Greens has extra veg, or if a customer forgets to collect a bag, these ‘leftovers’ often make it to the Platform to become a satisfying, healthy meal. Local Greens chats with Mandy and Zoe Marks of Healthy Living Platform to learn more about this fabulous community resource.
Q: Zoe, what is the Healthy Living Platform?
Zoe Marks: We are a social enterprise that offers a range of activities to the community aimed at encouraging healthy and sustainable lifestyles. We have been running food ambassador training programmes, where we train local people in the community to equip them with the skills and confidence to cook for the rest of their community.
Q: What activities did you offer before the start of the pandemic?
ZM: Prior to the lockdown we were running ‘cook and eat’ sessions most days of the week, where different parent food ambassadors would take it in turns to cook healthy, vegetarian meals for the rest of the community. All using surplus veg. It was a lovely way of celebrating and sharing the cultural diversity within the community. The sessions would also involve some kind of activity such as gardening, yoga or Zumba. Families were also part of our free fruit and veg bag scheme [in partnership with LEAP].
Q: How have you adapted to continue your services?
ZM: Since Lockdown we have continued to provide the free veg bags to families. Although the live sessions have stopped, we have moved many activities, such as Zumba, yoga and cook-alongs online. We also set up our ‘healthy living kitchen’ [at the Southwyck Community Centre in Brixton] as a way of providing healthy meals to those families that are struggling, still using surplus veg.
Q: Mandy, how did you become involved with Healthy Living Platform?
Mandy Mazliah: Over the last few years, I’ve worked occasionally with Healthy Living Platform to run some healthy snacks workshops for local parents with children under the age of four. These were a lot of fun! The workshops were hands on, with the children getting involved with stirring, mixing, chopping, peeling – and most importantly, eating – the healthy snacks we made. These workshops can’t be offered at the moment due to COVID, so Living Platform are providing healthy food in different ways to families – food parcels and cooked, hot meals. I’m working in the kitchen with them two days a week to cook the meals.
Q: How challenging is it to create meals with donated veg?
MM: It can be challenging, but it’s actually a challenge that I love. Sometimes we have a lot of the same vegetable, e.g. broccoli or beetroot, and we have to work hard to create different meals out of them so our recipients have variety. I’ve also really enjoyed working with other chefs who suggest ideas that I might not have thought of.
Q: Do you know what will be donated ahead of time so you can plan what you’re cooking, or is it more spontaneous?
MM: We don’t usually know ahead of time what will be donated. I usually know the day before what will be available for me to cook with so I can plan a menu.
Q: How many meals are you making at a time?
MM: Between 60-100 depending on the day. We also provide a service that offers frozen, cooked meals to people who need them so any extra gets frozen for that.
Q: What’s the biggest difference between cooking for Living Platform vs. for your blog and other projects?
MM: The biggest difference is the scale. When I cook for my blog, I’m making family sized quantities - cooking for Healthy Living Platform is much, much bigger. However, it is nice not to have to listen to my children complaining about what parts of the meal they don’t like!!
Q: What’s the best/favourite meal you’ve made so far?
MM: That is a good question. One of my favourite meals is Kung Pao cauliflower, which I made roughly following a Meera Sodha recipe. We served it with sesame broccoli, noodle salad and spicy roasted cabbage and carrots. However, I also really loved some stuffed courgettes with bulgur wheat that we made last week. This was another chef’s suggestion and isn’t the kind of meal I usually make. It was so delicious and I’ll definitely make it again. We had it with a big potato salad and pickled kohlrabi and radish (using Local Greens veg).
Q: What has the response been from families/volunteers to the food?
MM: Overwhelmingly positive. People have commented that they’ve tried new things and eaten more vegetables than they normally would. One man said over the phone that he’s never eaten so healthily in his life.
ZM: Feedback has been extremely positive, with families saying that it has encouraged them and their children to try different foods, that it has given them more ideas and encouraged them to cook more vegetarian food.
Q: What does the future hold for Healthy Living Platform?
ZM: As we move forward, we plan to expand our work within the kitchen and provide further training and employment opportunities to our trained food ambassadors. We are also embarking on other projects, such as cook-alongs, where we will send out ingredients to our families, and online cooking sessions led by food ambassadors.
Get involved with Health Living Platform or learn more about their services at http://healthylivingplatform.org/