The first of its kind in the UK, The Real Junk Food Project intercepts surplus food before it reaches landfill and feeds customers on pay-as-you-feel basis.
The project makes around 400 meals from each tonne of waste food they receive. This means if they could get their hands on the UK’s 7.2 million tonnes of food waste; they could potentially make 2.9 billion meals, which would feed nearly half of the world’s population.
‘You can’t change the world without changing your hometown’
Chef and café founder, Adam Smith was inspired by his time in Australia with his girlfriend Johanna. During their travels they worked on farms to earn money and it was there they witnessed first-hand the “astronomical scale” of food waste, which was being fed to livestock rather than the food-insecure, of which there are an estimated 925 million worldwide.
Taking their lead from café Lentil As Anything, which operates on a similar pay-as-you-feel model, the pair took to the streets of Melbourne and spent eight-weeks cooking intercepted waste food and feeding people for free.
While there a wise man told Adam “you can’t change the world unless you change your hometown first”, and it was that exchange that meant Leeds was to become the home of a food waste revolution.
A radical solution to food waste
The unassuming café in Armley was set up in February 2013 and became a fully-fledged Community Interest Company in December that year, meaning any profit made is used for the public good. The project has since featured as part of the Guardian’s Live Better Challenge and applauded for its radical solution to food waste issues. Seating 30 people, the menu changes everyday depending on what has been intercepted. Proving that this doesn’t have to limit culinary options, they always cater for all allergies and dietary requirements.
There’s always a pot of tea and a slice of cake going, alongside the menu of the day, and customers are invited to make a donation based on what they can afford. The café is also a registered food bank and Adam is determined to make everyone feel welcome – “we just care about making sure that the food doesn’t make it to landfill,” he says. Their open-door policy ensures a wide variety of friendly faces fill the place from students to the elderly, children and parents, asylum seekers, professionals, the food insecure and just the average Joe.
Every little helps
Alongside the café, The Real Food Project get their fingers dirty with guerilla gardening projects, offer catering consultancy when requested and provide large community feasts when they receive a glut of food. “Each one of these projects provides a service to those in the local community and those that are disadvantaged in society”, adds Adam.
The whole project runs on an entirely volunteer basis. There are eight directors on the board of the company, but none of them have ever taken a wage. When asked what makes such a financial sacrifice worthwhile Adam is blunt, “it’s not about being worthwhile, it’s about doing the right thing. We know what we are doing is the right thing to do and therefore we will continue”.
The project also has some 100 volunteers, who have the opportunity to get involved in whichever way they see fit. As Adam elaborates: “If you want to sit and have a cup of coffee for an hour with some of the customers, or get down and dirty in the washing up, volunteering with The Real Junk Food Project involves so much and can give so many skills”.
Vowing to never turn down food, regardless of condition, they collect and receive donated food from businesses, restaurants, farms, supermarkets and households. Feeding between 100 and 150 people per week the average donation per head is around £3.50, but no prices are dictated to customers.
Abolishing all manner of food waste
The long-term aim of The Real Junk Food project is “to really feed the word” by abolishing all manner of food waste “through a self-sustainable approach, feeding those that are food insecure in the process.” As Adam explains: “We have a global issue of food waste and food insecurity. We’re the middle-man ensuring edible food doesn’t make it to landfill, but that it actually makes it to peoples plates”. And with over 913 thousand British people relying on food banks in the last year and food wastage on the up, it’s about time the imbalance was addressed.
While a sister café is due to open in Manchester soon, Adam remains modest on the possible wider-impact of the concept, stating “we don’t want to dictate what happens to the project, we would like it to grow organically. We just want to inspire and give hope to those that want to do the right thing also”. However, there is one thing that he would like to change. “I would make it compulsory for everyone to be taught how to grow food and provide for themselves with basic cooking techniques from a very early age,” he says. “That way, we wouldn’t have to change attitudes, because there wouldn’t be any to change”.
Despite the fact the project relies on food surplus to function, Adam is objective when it comes to the future. “We want all businesses and organisations to be conscious of their waste and food waste especially. It is good that they give their food to The Real Junk Food Project, but we would like to help them reduce their waste to zero. If we turned up and the organisation had no waste, we would be happy.”
In the meantime, why not pop in for a cuppa? The Real Junk Food Project. 1 Chapel Lane, Armley Leeds LS12 2DJ. Open 9AM–4PM. 0113 2944080.