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The Real Junk Food Project, from wasted food to tasty meals on a pay as you feel basis

Would you eat food diverted from being wasted and transformed into a healthy meal? And pay for it how much you think it’s worth? Then the global network of The Real Junk Food Project cafés and shops is what you need.

In The Real Junk Food Project cafés food is saved from being wasted. These products, perfectly edible and usually close to their expiry date, are cooked into tasty and healthy meals and offered to people on a pay as you feel basis, letting the consumer decide what is the appropriate value for the food they have. The first café opened in the UK city of Leeds in 2013. Now the network extends to 80 cafés around the country and 120 worldwide, including in France, Germany and Australia. And it keeps growing.

food waste
Discarded vegetables in a Spanish market © Francisco Bonilla/Reuters

Food waste: a global emergency

Each year a third of the food produced worldwide is wasted, approximately 1.3 billion tonnes that cost us over 1 trillion dollars. In the European Union alone 88 million tonnes end up in bins or spoiled with estimated costs of over 150 billion dollars (143 billion euros). On the other hand, 1 billion people globally are undernourished. In fact, “the food currently wasted in Europe could feed 200 million people,” according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

Armley-Junkion
The Armley-Junkion pay as you feel café in Leeds, where The Real Junk Food Project started © The Real Junk Food Project

The Real Junk Food Project

The Real Junk Food Project is a charitable organisation founded by Adam Smith and Johanna Hewitt when they came back to the UK after working in Australia and opened the first café in the district of Armley in the northern city of Leeds in December 2013. While working in the food industry in Australia they witnessed the scale of waste. Once back home, their first efforts were to divert food from bins and make meals to feed people.

They chose to start from their local community, especially its most underprivileged segments, to then go global. Now a board of trustees that Smith sits on runs the organisation in pursuit of its aim to feed people and educate them on the topic of food waste. “We believe that this has to stop, and it needs to happen in our lifetime, to ensure the next generation don’t suffer from our ignorance,” according to the movement’s website.

The Armley Junk-iton café

The first café, the Armley Junk-ion, is still monitored by Smith. It has a different menu each day, as well as a best-before bistrot and food boutique. The bistrot aims to deliver a dining experience following a pay as you feel philosophy while the food boutique is a pay as you feel shop for grocery and food. The café also offers catering services for events following this concept, which also allows the project to reach an increasing number of people. In the first Armley café alone, 20,971 people have been fed and 29,777 meals have been cooked since 2013.

The Real Junk Food Project
The Sharehouse Leeds: the first pay as you feel food waste supermarket © The Real Junk Food Project

The Sharehouse Leeds

The Sharehouse is the evolution of the food boutique into a supermarket in Leeds where customers can buy fresh as well as refrigerated food intercepted from supermarkets, restaurants and other local businesses, most of which would otherwise end up in a landfill. Anyone can make purchases on a pay as you feel basis, either by giving cash or offering their skills or time. Up to today it has intercepted 440 tonnes of surplus food in one quarter alone (from the 17th of September to the 16th of December 2016) – surpassing the prediction for the whole of 2016, which was of 400 tonnes of food saved by the entire global network.

The Fuel for School project

The network is particularly interested in reaching younger generations. Hence, the innovative Fuel for School project was launched in partnership with Richmond Hill Primary School in Leeds. The programme is designed to remove hunger as a barrier to learning by providing 600 pupils with breakfast meals whilst highlighting the importance of nutrition, and benefits of learning about food waste and recycling.

The initiative’s mascot is an orange fox named FRED, which stands for Feed Recycle Educate Dine. The results are encouraging as 38 schools in Leeds are now participating in the programme and the number keeps growing. Thanks to it a new shop run by pupils has been opened in the Leeds city centre.

Sharehouse Leeds
The Sharehouse Leeds: the first pay as you feel food waste supermarket © The Real Junk Food Project

Tasted Sandwich Shop

A partnership with Leeds City Council and St John’s Shopping Centre led to the launch of a Tasted Sandwich Shop in the centre of town from the 5th to the 11th of December, run by pupils from three Leeds primary schools. The children used wasted food to make sandwiches, expanded their vocational and business experience and raised awareness about food waste. The shop was also run on a pay as you feel basis and included a food boutique.

The Real Junk Food Project is an innovative, holistic and inspiring idea of how a real, pressing issue can be tackled step by step, starting from the local then going global. Efforts such as this one show us that with collective effort, determination, innovative ideas and education any problem can be faced and the wellbeing of people enhanced.

Featured image: Pupils from Richmond Hill primary school with their teacher at a Fuel for School initiative © The Real Junk Food Project
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