“Sometimes, a lot of young people are afraid of making mistakes,” says Marcus Rashford. “When I was younger, my brother always told me: ‘If you’re not making mistakes, you can never be the player you want to become.’ So I’m trying to use those same words from him in this environment – and it’s working.”
The professional footballer is speaking at the launch of his latest project to fight food poverty. At just 23, he’s already successfully campaigned for the extension of free school meals in the school holidays, plus secured better food vouchers for young, low-income families. And he’s not stopping there.
Football may be dominating headlines for other reasons this week, but Rashford has his eyes firmly set on social justice. Through his Child Food Poverty Task Force, he’s continuing to call for free school meals to be extended to all under-16s where a parent or guardian receives Universal Credit or equivalent benefit.
He also wants to empower families to enjoy cooking with the resources that they do have. And that’s where his new campaign, Full Time, comes in. Created in partnership with chef Tom Kerridge, Full Time is designed to “help fill hungry tummies” and call “full time” on child food poverty.
Kerridge has created 52 affordable recipes that start at 25p per portion, which will be available via recipe cards in supermarkets. The recipes include simple instructions, plus a QR code linking to tutorial videos on Instagram, hosted by Kerridge, Rashford and a selection of celebrity guests.
“We’re going right back to basics,” says Kerridge. “This is like learning to ride a bike, right at the beginning with stabilisers. This is peeling carrots, peeling potatoes, dicing onions. This isn’t making tagines or braising beef briskets.”
Many of the recipes focus on ingredients available with Healthy Start vouchers. Healthy Start provides young pregnant women and low-income families with children under the age of four in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with vouchers to buy milk, fruit, vegetables and pulses.
Rashford’s Child Food Poverty Task Force successfully campaigned for the government to extend the value of vouchers from £3.10 to £4.25.
He hopes the new scheme will raise awareness that the vouchers exist, while removing some of the stigma that stops eligible families accessing them. “If you’re in need of something and the help is there, it’s there to be used,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
Rashford had free school meals as a child and his mother used the food bank, but those support systems are often not enough to stop kids going hungry. “I remember sometimes at school, I’d fall asleep,” he says. “I just hadn’t eaten the food [I needed] so I wasn’t awake. I’d literally just fall asleep.
“For some of these kids, they might dream of being a scientist, but imagine if you’re in a science class and you’re always tried. I don’t want that to happen.”
The topic is also close to Kerridge’s heart. His single mum had two jobs, and while he feels “lucky” to have never gone hungry, they were certainly still on a budget. At 14, Kerridge was responsible for making dinner for himself and his younger brother. Kids that age don’t need fancy recipes, he says, they need the confidence to turn on the oven and know when the fish fingers are cooked.
The ‘ultimate fish finger sandwich’ is one of the recipes the duo has created. Others include tortilla pizzas, chicken satay stir fry and spaghetti bolognese. The recipes use mugs to measure ingredients, removing the need for scales, and require minimal equipment.
Reminding us how young he is, Rashford admits he’s only learned to cook in lockdown, with the help of Kerridge. His favourite recipe? “Erm... what was in that stir fry?” he asks the chef, laughing. Clearly, he hasn’t made it twice.
Sceptics of Full Time might suggest it perpetuates the idea that families go hungry because of poor cooking skills, rather than income or our patchy welfare system. Kerridge acknowledges the scheme isn’t a “silver bullet” that can eradicate poverty, but hopes families will still learn cost-cutting tricks.
“Poverty itself is the bigger picture,” he says. ”Marcus is a footballer and I’m a chef, the bigger issue of poverty is perhaps not something we can solve. But the bit that we can do here is trying to help as much as possible, regarding the food aspect of it.”
Does Rashford think the government is taking the issue of child food poverty seriously enough? “At the moment, I get the vibe they are giving it time so they can understand what it is we are speaking about – because in the beginning, they didn’t [understand],” he tells HuffPost UK, during the launch.
“I feel like they’re definitely giving it a good go, and at this moment in time, with Covid, a good go might be all it needs to push these kids in the right direction and at least help them be able to survive throughout this Covid period.”
Rashford doesn’t think the government will U-turn on the strides he’s made to help tackle child food poverty as lockdown eases, saying simply: “I don’t think the public would allow it to happen again.”
He also hints at further plans to help disadvantaged communities after the pandemic. “My plans for the future [have] a much broader scale to what’s going on right now,” he says. “The things we’re asking for at the moment, it’s necessary that we get those before even thinking about the rest of the plan.”
The 23-year-old has helped put food on the table for millions, yet somehow, doesn’t feel under pressure. “The reason I don’t, is [because] all you can do as humans is give the best that you can do,” he says.
“I’m trying my hardest to get the things I think families need, and the things that they’re telling me that they need. If it all fails, I’ll be disappointed, but it doesn’t mean I’ll quit doing it because I’ve failed and it’s too much pressure to try again.
“None of that really exists in my head – it’s just about giving those kids the best chance of a future.”
Full Time launches on Sunday 25 April. Recipes will be available to pick up in various forms from selected supermarkets every Sunday morning.