The Real Junk Food Project is a ‘Pay-As-You-Feel’ (PAYF) eatery in Armely, Leeds, only serving food that would otherwise be destined for landfill. From December 2013 to June 2014, the café intercepted 10,520.716 kilograms of edible food that would have been thrown away and left to rot in land fill. They are a registered food bank, and have served 4073 meals to 2888 people.
The café intercepts surplus or waste food from restaurants and supermarkets in Leeds, using it to prepare healthy meals. The community café has an open door policy, and the menu changes depending on what has been salvaged that day. The food, however, is always delicious. Diners pay what they can or as much as they feel the food is worth, and they can also volunteer their services to earn meals. It is run and staffed entirely by volunteers, opening at 9am and staying open until every last scrap of food is gone.
In a video made by The Guardian, founder Adam Smith rubbishes sell-by-dates. He stresses their irrelevance and gives the example of the time he intercepted avocadoes, still in their polythene wrappers, that were about to be thrown in the bin. Having been gingerly picked and transported thousands of miles, at huge environmental cost, they were destined to be chucked just because of the date stamped on the packaging. Imposing sell-by-dates on all the food we eat is undermining our own ability to tell if food is off. The PAYF eatery goes by a simple rule; if it doesn’t smell off, look off, or have mould on it, there is probably nothing wrong with it.
The Real Junk Food Project is not just in Leeds, with a non-profit 20-seat diner, The Bristol Skipchen, springing up in Bristol this October. ‘Skipping’ teams go out every evening, moving fast to make sure the food they find is kept fresh, whether its gorgonzola cheese or kiln-roasted salmon. Holiday-goers also drop off food that would otherwise have gone off in their fridge.
Our habit of throwing away perfectly edible food is starting to produce a real stench. The Institution of Mechanical Engineers has estimated that up to 2 billion tons of the food produced around the world never makes it to our plates. In the UK, 30% of vegetable crops are never even harvested, as they don’t meet retailers’ unrealistic standards of how our food should look. All the while, millions of people go hungry.
The Real Junk Food Project believes this is an issue that needs to be talked about, and provides an informal environment for this conversation. They are not just there to provide food, but to get people talking about the issue of food waste and it’s clearly striking a note with people. But unless they can raise £130,000 to buy the café property, the future of the project is at risk. The real waste would be seeing such a resourceful project being put out of business.