Award-winning plastic pollution campaigner provides meals to NHS front-line workers

Naseem Talukdar is already a well-known figure on the Bristol food scene, not for his cooking (though he comes from a family of restaurateurs), but for his campaign and charity work. Lucy Gatward, Bristol Going for Gold’s food sector engagement lead, meets Naseem to talk about his charity’s response to the COVID-19 crisis.

The first charity Naseem founded, which launched in 2016, offered hot meals to rough sleepers (Feed The Homeless Bristol). Though the meal deliveries were a success, the project’s reliance on single-use packaging troubled him. In October 2018, he founded his second charity, The Plastic Pollution Awareness and Actions Project (PPAAP), working with takeaways in Bristol and beyond to find cost-effective and convenient alternatives to single-use packaging. In summer 2019, Naseem wrote this blog for Bristol Going for Gold about our reliance on single-use plastics.

Award-winning
Naseem has always kept his professional life (as an IT analyst) separate from his charity work. “It means I can be a bolder and more independent campaigner”, he says. Arguably, this strategy has worked well: in April 2020, he received a High Sheriff’s Award from the Lord-Lieutenant Bristol, in recognition of his contribution to the city.

Food 4 NHS 
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Naseem and his PPAAP team quickly regrouped to form the Food 4 NHS project. “Through PPAAP, we’d built strong relationships with the catering community and businesses across South West. We wanted to support people on the front-line by providing free and healthy meals, as a ‘thank you’ for fighting this unprecedented pandemic.”

After discussions with various NHS facilities, they identified where their resources could be best deployed: Bristol Royal Infirmary, Southmead Hospital, other local hospitals and NHS walk-in centres were chosen.

Naseem at the BRI’s BOHC Department (Photo credit: Curry Supreme, Staple Hill)

“Our partner businesses were keen to contribute, so the effect of the project has been twofold. These restaurateurs have become part of something bigger – they’re a community hub now too”.

“We have some fantastic independent Indian restaurants providing the food, [they’re listed at the end of this article], and we’re in contact with hospital coordinators who keep us informed of where the needs are greatest. It is a bit of a task, but the impact is inspiring and fulfilling. In the short time we’ve been operating, we’ve delivered hundreds of meals, and the response has been fantastic.”

Plastic pollution
Naseem has made sure he’s kept his single-use plastic goals alive, making it clear to partners that they need to avoid plastic containers, using recyclable foil ones instead. “We’ve kept our PPAAP campaign message consistent and vigilant. We need to continue to identify where single-use plastic is used in catering – in take-away services in particular – and find sustainable alternatives, while empowering businesses to adopt and embrace change”.

So what’s behind this passion for people and planet? “Food is a blessing”, said Naseem, “But we’ve learnt that our food is getting contaminated with micro-plastic and the food industry is responsible for the 17% of the global waste dumped into the sea. It’s affecting our marine life as well as our ecosystems and health. There are over 56,500 independent food retailers in the UK, and 93% of them heavily rely on single-use plastic. It’s time for us all to take responsibility of our actions”.

For more information about Food 4 NHS and The Plastic Pollution Awareness and Actions Project, including details of Curry and Conversation events, see the PPAAP website. PPAAP’s Curry and Conversation events are workshops to raise awareness and share knowledge about environmentally sustainable replacements for plastic.

For more information about Feed The Homeless Bristol, see Feed The Homeless Bristol.

Participating restaurants: Rajastan Royal, Downend; Curry Supreme, Staple Hill; Golden Moments Indian Restaurant, Saltford; Curry Kings, Kingswood; Bengal Raj, Stoke Bishop.