Having worked for FoodCycle and The Passage homelessness charity, Ben can now be found helping food and sustainbility projects, charity offices, business workplaces, and at Impact Hub Islington, or coaching in cafés.
Where did your love of good food come from?
My mum would cook for us whenever she could, a roast dinner every Sunday, breakfast at the table, and something from the oven most evenings. I was a well-fed child – I could hoover down a plate of roast dinner before my mum had served my sister and herself!
I also had a primary school teacher called Mrs Scott, back in the 80s, who ran a club called Green Dragons, which has forever inspired my love of treading gently on this earth, and good food does just that.
You’ve turned an interest in sustainability into a freelance career as a coach for those looking for value-driven careers. If you could go back to when you started this transition, what advice would you give?
That it can be scary, terrifying, and confusing to follow your heart but opening up to whatever values and purpose you have is the only way to truly live. Being stuck in your head for decades is fine, but having allowed my feelings to help guide me for the past 5 years or so, as well as taking risks whilst not knowing what the end result would be, has been a revelation.
I’m not sure the younger me would have been able to hear that though, so maybe I’d have just listened to the challenges and obstacles he perceived.
As more people are interested in jobs with a social or environmental purpose, food-related or otherwise, what are opportunities do you seein the future?
The shift into a more conscious way of living, whether that’s growing your own food, creating the work that matters to you or choosing real bread over that other stuff, the joy is that there is so much opportunity. Our connected planet allows anyone to create anything with sufficient drive, resilience and support.
Tell us about a memorable ‘lightbulb moment’ that has shaped your career trajectory.
I’ve been involved in a personal development training called Insight Seminars, and the ignition of my great big heart about 5 years ago set me up for the path I have been on since. It’s not for everyone, but I highly recommend it!
What or who has helped you most along the way in establishing your career as a freelancer and/or as a coach?
My wife, without a doubt - the wonderful Jo Hunter. From her near endless support in every dimension, to bearing the financial burden of me jumping into this work perhaps sooner than was advisable (we discussed it first!). Plus, she walked the path already having created her company, 64 Million Artists, from the nagging feeling that her previous role wasn’t working for what she wanted to do, and how she wanted to be.
What’s a typical day for you, or is there one?
Wake up to my 3-month-old son, Nathaniel, and entertain him whilst mum gets some sleep. Get us both breakfast and deliver it to the bedside. Squeeze in a meditation, shower, jump on the bike for Impact Hub Islington, catch up with emails and all the digital admin. Next up could be a coaching call over Zoom or Skype, lunch with my co-workers, then maybe welcome someone for an in-person coaching session before meeting someone else in a good café for a chat about how we could work together. Or I might be out of the office the whole day facilitating, coaching in people’s work places, or just having a half-day to enjoy London.
What’s the most rewarding part of what you do?
Being with people as they unlock skills, confidence, and abilities they didn’t know they had, so well hidden had they been. Watching their mindset shift from one of 'can’t,' 'won’t,' 'don't know how,' to one of 'maybe I could,' 'let's find out,' 'failure isn't so bad. Discovering new parts of London, new cafés and new views, when I go out and coach is also endlessly enjoyable.
What new food campaign/project/initiative does London need the most or which existing one deserves more support?
As a Newham resident, my borough needs food waste recycling, please. Having been a latecomer to the joy of a proper sourdough loaf thanks to the wonder that is E5 Bakehouse and the Rinkoffs bakery, I think The Real Bread Campaign needs to keep on growing. And I write this as a resident of Forest Gate, who sees the yellow Hovis trucks leaving the huge factory (that is not a bakery!) on the Romford Road, astounded by the industrialisation of the bread making process.
If you were the ruler of London, what’s the first thing you’d do to improve things food-wise?
A programme that connects people with plenty of food to those who have little, perhaps those with plenty opening their doors to share a meal with those who have little. Wealth sits alongside poverty and the disconnection between the two I find painful. I volunteered for FoodCycle before working there, and it truly opened my eyes to how a great meal (or any shared meal) can connect diverse people on a deeper, more human level, getting us out of our bubble. I’d finesse the details once appointed ruler...
Who’s your good food hero and why?
There are many. If I were to cast Avengers: The Food Heroes, the team would be huge. I’ve resisted aligning the following with Marvel’s characters…Kelvin Cheung, FoodCycle’s founder, for the vision and drive to create a charity that I think really changed the conversation and attitude to surplus food, whilst building communities. Guy Singh-Watson of Riverford, for his approach to farming, ownership, and commitment to what works. Anna Jones for her wonderful recipes that have brightened up many a vegan and vegetarian mealtime. Julius Ibrahim of Second Shot coffee is also a hero.
What London food secret would it be selfish not to share?
I live in Forest Gate near Stratford and want to shout out the great eateries Tromsø, Tracks, Corner Kitchen and Arch Rivals, whilst Sawmills in Stratford is worth seeking out as a great alternative to Westfield’s offering.
Ben Carter is a member of London Food Link and his next coaching course, Growing a Purpose-Led Career, is now open for registrations. LFL supporters can get a 10% discount on each level of ticket with the code lflsupporter.