‘Sharing Food With My Neighbours Has Helped My Anxiety During Lockdown’: Melissa Hemsley On How Cooking Can Help You Cope

The best-selling cookbook author has joined OLIO's Cook4Kids campaign to feed the 1.3million school children that relied on free school meals.

Melissa Hemsley

by Georgia Aspinall |
Updated on

‘I’m someone who has really high anxiety most of the time anyway, so added on to all of this, my anxiety is sky high,’ says Melissa Hemsley, chef and best-selling cookbook author known for her feel-good food recipes on Instagram and beyond.

Melissa is physically well, but dealing with anxiety generally coupled with health anxiety since the spread of Covid-19, she’s needed to focus on the hobbies that settle her emotional turmoil: cooking. And not just cooking, cooking with purpose.

‘I thought to myself, I’m not a key worker, so what can I do to be useful?’ she tells me over the phone from her east London home. ‘So I got involved with Cook4Kids, because cooking is what I can do anyway.’

Cook4Kids is a campaign started by OLIO, an app that allows neighbours to reduce food waste by sharing with one another. Launching the initiative in the wake of schools closing, the Cook4Kids campaign asks anyone who can to cook and prepare simple meals to share them with neighbouring school children using a no-contact pick-up. Given 1.3million children in the UK rely on school meals every day, it’s proven a vital service for families everywhere.

‘I was already doing it for some of my neighbours who are self-isolating,’ says Melissa. ‘But the great thing about the app is you don't need to know who the people are. Because it’s great if you know your neighbours, but what if you don’t? And chances are even if you do, you may only know the people on either side of your house.’

Becoming a member, Melissa has since made extra portions of each of her usual meals and fed countless neighbours. ‘Take a picture, put it up and within an hour someone on the next street could be eating your dinner,’ she explains. ‘Of course, the nicest part would normally be having a chat while you hand it over which you can’t do. You have to leave it on the doorstep for a few minutes then close your door before they arrive to take it, so I just wave out the window – but it literally feels so food.

‘We all know the point of doing something for someone else is not to feel good for yourself but to help someone,’ she continues. ‘But you can't help but feel good at the same time because there's this massive win-win. You're not wasting food, you're feeding someone and you're making such a difference in someone's life. These kids and the families have so much pressure anyway, they don't need that added pressure of worrying about how they're going to eat.’

And along with helping families who may be struggling to cover the five meals a week children normally get in school, Melissa says it’s also really helped her own stress in dealing with all the worry that comes with a global pandemic.

It gives my day purpose

‘It gives my day purpose,’ she says. ‘It’s not like I’m spending all day creating gourmet meals, I'm literally cooking with what I've got in already. But when it gets picked up, we have a wave through the window, and it feels so nice that sometimes I actually cry.’

The campaign also stresses that you don’t just have to create meals, neighbours can share uncooked food other families have been unable to get with mass supermarket shortages – like bags of pasta or rice. Nor do you have to be a cooking connoisseur.

'You don’t need to be a top chef,' says OLIO co-founder Tessa Clarke. 'You could make something as simple as a pasta bake, freeze individual portions and share on OLIO. These small actions can have such an enormous impact on families who are in need of help.'

Of course, those top chefs are also getting involved and pledging their support for the campaign, proving it to be a bigger success than imagined. Perhaps not just because it’s such a worthy cause, but also because cooking and baking seems to be the nation’s favourite form of therapy during lockdown.

You have to put your phone down and get engrossed in what you're doing

‘It is soothing, as is anything with your hands I think,’ says Melissa. ‘You have to put your phone down, step away from your laptop and get engrossed in what you’re doing.

‘When we cook we engage all the senses, we can see all the beautiful ingredients in front of us which gets our digestive juices going. We get to smell the baking or spices or garlic sizzling in butter. All of these things that we maybe miss out on when we're in the office all day or in the tube on the way home, we don't get to do all of this.'

And so not only are you helping others getting involved in Cook4Kids, you’re helping yourself too. ‘Maybe even just making your own decision to do this, it inspires others to get involved too and help someone else,’ adds Melissa. ‘Every decision we make has a knock-on effect and this one can help everyone.’

Find out more about OLIO's Cook4Kids campaign here__.

Read More:

Coronavirus: How to Look After Your Mental Health During Lockdown

What It's Like For Single People Living On Their Own During Lockdown

Why Is Everyone Making Banana Bread In Lockdown? We Asked Psychotherapists To Explain The Trend

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