Re-vive: The Small Stall Waging the War Against Food Waste

Every Tuesday during term time, you’ll find a small stall with a big vision operating downstairs in the ‘Market Square’ of Leeds University Union, selling fruit and veg on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. You’d be forgiven for thinking the stall was just another external company offering freebies to students, such is its professional aesthetic, but it is in fact one of Leeds’ latest enterprise in the fight against food waste. The Gryphon sat down with Lara Whiteside, one of the many student volunteers running the stall, to discuss Re-vive’s inspiration, its goals, and its long term plans for students.

Re-vive was created in early 2018 within the social enterprise group Enactus Leeds. For those of you unfamiliar with the movement, Enactus is an international non-profit organisation which brings together student, academic and business leaders to improve the quality of life and standard of living for people in need around the world. At Leeds, Enactus has provided a platform for university students to create community development projects of all kinds, one in particular being the Re-vive food stall. The soul aim of the project, according to Lara, is to “reduce food waste in Leeds and provide students with affordable and healthy foods.”

“We believe that every step counts, however small it is. So, if at every stall we manage to educate at least one person, then that’s still a success. When it comes to sustainability, it is important to change the mindset; many people believe that, to achieve a sustainable lifestyle, many sacrifices must be made. However, we disagree. The environments we live in play such a major role in our development as humans and we believe that it is possible for people to grow, together, alongside the environment rather than simply by exploiting it.”

This idea of togetherness and collaboration and community which Lara touches upon is the key to the Re-vive stall’s success. Discussing how the stall continues to maintain a consistent stock of fruit and veg, Lara explains “we have partnered up with The Real Junk Food Project as they are the biggest body in Leeds that is fighting against food waste. They provide us with food that otherwise would be thrown away and sent to the landfill.”

Running a stall in the madness of a busy LUU can have its benefits, but it also comes with its drawbacks. Although lunchtime at the Union brings crowds of students to the ‘Market Square’, these crowds tend to want something quick and efficient to fill their stomachs. For this reason, Lara admits that Re-vive’s biggest learning curve has been responding to the demands of a transient target audience. The main thing they’ve learnt? “Talking with customers! We have tailored our day of stall and the variety of foods based on feedback from the customers.”

“We believe that every step counts, however small it is. So, if at every stall we manage to educate at least one person, then that’s still a success.”

The customers themselves bring a further issue. Although students seem to be more aware of environmental concerns than any other generation, student areas are notoriously bad at recycling, with many sources of food and packaging unnecessarily going to waste throughout the university semesters. Lara is no stranger to these idiosyncrasies when running the Re-vive stall: “many of our volunteers have seen a student putting a plastic container with one leftover salad leaf in the ‘food waste bin’, and such examples can be observed every day on campus.”

Lara doesn’t not blame these students, however. “It’s not that these students don’t care, it’s just they are often under a lot of stress and thus it’s understandable that recycling or sustainability are not the top priorities in their minds at all times.” Rather than criticising those who are susceptible to poor waste management, the goal of Re-vive is to educate them. “Students are a passionate community eager to change the world, and they are the world’s future. The awareness of issues such as food waste and recycling should be raised at all times in order to protect this future, which is what Re-vive is striving to do.”

It is often hard for struggling families and students to carry out sustainable food shops, as organic and waste-free products often come at an additional cost. However, Lara believes that projects like Re-vive actually prove that, in the long term, it’s cheaper to be sustainable. “Research shows that the UK throws away approximately 13 billion pounds of food each year. This means that you can actually save some money by light planning of meals and reduction of food waste.”

This issue becomes even more pertinent around Christmas time. Although a period of feasts and celebrations, the festive season also brings with it a huge rise in the quantity of food waste being thrown away. Lara’s top tip to students staying in Leeds or returning home is to be proactive: “plan ahead! Everyone loves a good Christmas dinner, but try to evaluate how much food it’s actually possible to consume and help yourself to reduce the possibility of food waste. If you do end up having some leftovers – freeze them! Obviously it depends on the food, but usually you can keep many ingredients or recipes in the freezer for a few weeks – or maybe even until the next Christmas holidays!”

Regarding the future – we are working on developing the project even further! Now the plan is to increase our impact by finding a beneficiary group.”

In its first year, things have gone extremely well for the stall and its volunteers, but there’s stilly plenty more to come. “Regarding the future – we are working on developing the project even further! Now the plan is to increase our impact by finding a beneficiary group. For instance, we are working on establishing relationships with charities that work with refugees. The plan is for them to gain experience and employability skills by volunteering in our stall and participating in different workshops that Enactus Re-vive will be organising.”

You can catch the Re-vive stall at ‘Market Square’ in LUU throughout the day on Tuesdays. The final stall of 2018 takes place today, until its mission to reduce food waste in Leeds will be revived in 2019.

Robbie Cairns