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The importance of being Ernest: eat well and make a difference

Eating & Drinking
Short read

Georgina Wilson-Powell

30 October 2016

795 million will go hungry tonight. Global poverty, inequality, homelessness and war - there are endless reasons why people aren't sitting down to a decent meal. Overwhelming and complex it’s hard to know where to start to help. Well, how about close to home? Ernest, an ‘incubator’ style community enterprise, looks to help ease food poverty at the local level with lashings of community spirit. And after several successful campaigns in French cities, Ernest has arrived in Hackney, London.

It’s a simple idea. On top of your bill at the 10 participating restaurants, you pay a small ‘solidarity tax’ which goes directly to local charities - in Hackney’s case it’s the Spitalfields Crypt Trust and Hackney Migrant Centre.

Co-chair of the London franchise, Eva Lily Tausig, explains how the money raised will go towards particular goals at each charity,

“Charities are under a huge amount of stress so I think it’s good that we work very closely with them to come up with a figure that they need to cover a particular thing so they don’t have to worry about it."

Tuck Inn Cafe Ernest Campaign 2 Pebble Magazine

10 restaurants in Hackney are taking part in Ernest this year

At Spitalfields Crypt Trust that’s paying for the Cookery and Nutrition Rehabilitation Programme for a year. For Hackney Migrant Centre, Ernest is hoping to cover weekly drop-in meals for asylum seekers and refugees, where they also help with advice. For each charity the target is £5k by January.

“Both these charities work to find sustainable solutions to food poverty and have the community at heart. They’re not just there to provide emergency meals but to get people out of that situation,” explains Tausig. “While emergency programmes are popping up to try and cope with the huge amount of people using food banks, we need to get people out of needing the help in the first place."

Unlike global corporate charities, Ernest is staffed by local people, similar to a franchise. In the push and pull between global and local spheres of interest, its feet are firmly rooted in the latter, making a difference to the people who live in a particular community. 

“The whole idea is that Ernest is an incubator system that people can set up themselves all over London or elsewhere,” says Tausig. “We have one starting in Lambeth in the New Year. I’d love to see it take off as an accessible model that fosters local links and community engagement because we seem to have lost so much of that.”

“There’s a willingness to help but on a bigger scale there’s anxiety between global and local that we’re noticing,” says Tausig. “We’ve become a more global community through social media and globalisation but then there’s a growing realisation that that doesn’t work for everyone. While a lot of fundraising is global and faceless, we’re focusing on the faces in the community that are helping and being helped, from the restaurateurs to the recipients."

Morito London Ernest Campaign Pebble Magazine
“I’d love to see it take off as an accessible model that fosters local links and community engagement because we seem to have lost so much of that”

It’s a recipe for success. In Paris the first campaign raised €8,860 in February 2015. By the end of the year that figure had gone up to €25,000 and 80 restaurants were involved including Paris’ hipster bistro Frenchie. A second serving in Toulouse brought in €17,747 across 48 restaurants over a few months. Ernest Hackney’s restaurants include Clutch, Stage 3, Viet Hoa and The Richmond.

A series of pop up events and supper clubs is also being organised by Lucie Massey, who is responsible for successful foodie events like the New Orleans’ inspired Slap Ya Papa. Ernest will be working with Plan Z Heroes, a food waste charity, and the events will hopefully involve those the charities are helping, putting faces to names and the neighbourhood.

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