What started out as a small community project just 14 months ago, is taking the UK by storm, revolutionising how wasted food is dealt with by turning ‘junk’ food into yummy meals. By intercepting some of the estimated 4.3 million tonnes of wasted food, a growing network of enterprising chefs, residents and small businesses have joined forces to deliver the initiative and serve up ‘real’ food to the people of Britain.
The Real Junk Food Project, which opened its first kitchen in Leeds, now has a network of over 110 cafes, with thousands of people getting involved every day. In the last year, the project has reused over 50 tonnes of food and fed thousands of people.
Based on the ‘pay as you feel’ model, the cafes are collaborating to meet their ultimate goal… abolishing food waste forever.
Skip Hire Magazine caught up with the founder of The Real Junk Food Project, Adam Smith and one of the founders of Brighton’s addition to the network, Imogen Richmond-Bishop.
Adam said, “Being a chef for over 12 years, I had seen food waste from a catering point of view. I then travelled to Australia and witnessed production waste on farms that I worked on. So, it was mainly a mixture of seeing global food waste, witnessing social injustice with regards to how they treat the homeless in Australia, and not really knowing what I wanted to do with my skills. So, I was trying to bring it all together for something that was really productive.
“I’m still rude, blunt and angry about what goes on, but I get positive things out of doing it.”
The support from communities throughout the UK has been overwhelming. Adam continues, “It’s been the same since day one. We’ve yet to meet anyone who has anything negative to say about it. It’s been taken with open arms by the general public, other businesses, the third sector and the media, they absolutely love it. It’s something that allows people to come on-board and challenge the status-quo. It’s a very simple concept or ethos for however people see fit, for their community or their needs; whatever it may be. Anyone from anywhere or any background can come on-board, get involved and get something out of it.”
Imogen adds, “The feedback from the local community has been really positive. We’re open on Fridays and have about 200 people coming to eat in two hours. Every week, we have more and more people. It’s been going from strength-to-strength, since the word has spread. There are people from all different walks of life coming along. You have homeless people, but you also have middle-class families with their children and students.”
At the very beginning, Adam faced challenges from local businesses feeling that the project would be a hindrance to them, but upon reflection, local businesses are now immersing themselves in the project in different ways. “I was accused, before I opened it, that I was going to shut down cafes all over the UK, but actually, what we’ve done is increased the value and potentially some of their traffic, especially the original one in Armoury in Leeds that we created. It has a very run-down, poor demographic, right next door to a prison. They have a lot of homeless people there with drug and alcohol issues. A lot of the cafes around there thought that we would be a threat to them. But, it has had the opposite effect. We got a message from a new café last week that opened up and the lady said she had overspent on some food that she didn’t need and could she come around and donate it to us. So, it’s also a way for other business to feel good and also, they can do something responsible with food. We always go on social media and say thank you to the small, independent businesses. The next thing you know, their Facebook likes and social media following increases ten-fold.”
Imogen says, “Local business are really supportive and will come and drop some food or even volunteer. We also support a lot of community projects in the area, such as the homeless and women’s shelters. It’s been incredibly positive. It’s one of those places where people from very different backgrounds meet up. In just three months, we have had over 4,000 kilos of food donated and that’s just from a couple of sources.”
The ‘pay as you feel’ model has been a success. Adam says, “We did a large collection at a shopping centre recently with an ambulance we have. On the final day, we convinced all the other street food vendors to go ‘pay as you feel’ and it was the busiest day in the history of the shopping centre. Even the corporate businesses said that they had never done as much business as they had on that day.
“I knew how powerful it could be. It gives power back to the individual, rather than the employer or the consumer. When you do that, you allow for equality and humanity to happen at the same time. It breaks down so many barriers socially and environmentally.
“We’ve had homeless people or people with low incomes give more money than people that are quite wealthy. But, the wealthier people have given their time and skills in other ways, such as rewiring electrics, graphic design, social media and building websites; which is more valuable than money.
“For us it’s not about ‘those that can’t afford to pay, don’t have to’ and ‘those that have money have to pay.’ We value people’s skills. We don’t care how much money people have got; we would rather people give their time and skills back to the company.
“We’re breaking down so many barriers, especially stigmas around class and value of people.”
The Real Junk Food menus are often made as a concoction on the day. Imogen says, “The volunteers describe it as ‘Ready, Steady, Cook’ – we just get a load of food and we won’t necessarily know in advance, because it’s just whatever the supermarkets are going to throw away.
“For example, last week, we had about eight kilos of asparagus by Wednesday. So we knew there was going to definitely be asparagus involved and we also got a 100 chickens donated. So, by the Friday, we knew it was going to be something made with chickens and asparagus.
“Also, we get volunteers from all over the place, so there are a range of different recipes. It’s a very creative process.”
Adam’s plans for the future are ambitious. He says, “My plans for the future are to feed the world. I have said it from day one. When I opened the first café, I got laughed at when I said that. Now there’s 110 around the world in 14 months, so they’re not laughing anymore.”
Imogen adds, “In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have to exist. The supermarkets wouldn’t be wasting as much food as they do.”