20,000 meals under the canvas

“I’ve just had a great time shredding lettuces – it’s very therapeutic!”

Thus Gordon, who had just returned from making salad to feed about a thousand people at New Wine, opened my eyes to the unexpected benefits of food preparation! He and I were part of a group of about sixty who were on the catering team in Shepton Mallet last week; I’d joined along with two others from Trinity, John Linney and Nick Bradshaw. Despite being hard work – we each put in about 50 hours over the seven days – it was enormous fun. Within a day we gelled as a team, which meant that we had great cameraderie over the week.

Breakfast was a comparatively leisurely affair – good for the bleary-eyed!

Half the team would arrive at 6.45 in the morning to start to prepare and serve the breakfast. This was the least stressful meal of the day, with the only difficulty being whether the toasters would function properly for the several hundred slices needed. (I did however discover that porridge Scottish-style, with salt, is tastier than English-style, with sugar…)

Lunch, however, was quite different. The other half of  the team would arrive, and the pressure was on for us all to deliver a full meal to the thousand or so people who were involved in running New Wine. These ranged from the speakers, to the leaders of the wide range of kids’ groups, to stewards, medics and venue hosts. Typical meals included stew or curry with rice, and a sponge pudding for dessert.

Serving lunch to the hordes…

A full catering tent at lunch

Serving the meal required a smoothly-operating human machine. Food was prepared by a designated team of chefs, which was delivered by carriers whose job it was to ensure that the serveries had a constant supply of food trays with minimal interruption. Then there were separate teams for cleaning cutlery, washing plates (with an industrial-sized machine) and scrubbing pots (requiring elbow grease) – while others assisted in food preparation for the early evening meal. It’s an operation that has been finely honed over the 22 years of New Wine.

Part of the privilege of joining the team was meeting the other members. There was a diverse array of backgrounds, including – amongst others – students, teachers, an auditor, a pharmacist and a physiotherapist. However, the best source of unexpected tales was John Parkinson, a lanky, genial Zimbabwean, originally a farmer in his own country who became an agricultural consultant across Africa, and latterly a food security expert.

One day I was woken up in the middle of the night because a baby had fallen into the fire. I’d heard that tea leaves are good for burns, so I emptied half a packet of tea into a pot, brewed it up and then let it cool down.

They thought it was a miracle!

John told the story as sparely as I’ve recorded it here.

Ah yes – shredding lettuces… this is how you do it. You take an iceberg lettuce and you bash it on its base a few times; having done so you can pluck out the core quite easily. You then shred the lettuce, either using a plastic knife (better than a metal one, apparently), or tearing with bear hands, which is more fun. A few days after Gordon told me about this, I had my turn at experiencing the therapeutic vegetable.

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