How would you feel if you knew the food you’d just eaten at a café had passed its expiry date? According to one internationally-trained chef, you’d feel absolutely fine. Okay, you might balk at the idea of having eaten food that had “gone off,” but Adam Smith, co-founder the Real Junk Food Project, says experienced cooks know when something is still safe to eat, and that’s one of the reasons why he’s happy to serve up food that would’ve ended up in the bin otherwise.
He’s not the only one doing this. Cafés serving “food waste” are springing up all over the UK – at the time of writing, there were 29 cafés across England, Scotland, and Wales, listed on the Real Junk Food Project’s website. And the trend is spreading, with cafés in France, Germany, and Australia signing up to the project, too.
Feed bellies, not bins
The Real Junk Food Project was set up by Adam Smith and his partner following an extended trip to Australia. Adam had been working there as a chef in a high quality kitchen, where he became aware of the amount of food being thrown away simply because it was past its “use-by” date. Adam returned to the UK with one clear mission: to “feed bellies, not bins.”
As well as the issue of what he perceived as perfectly good food being dumped in landfill sites, Adam’s travels alerted him to the levels of malnutrition in the world. According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around a third of the food produced in the world each year, goes to waste – a stark enough statistic in itself, brought into even sharper focus by figures showing that at the same time, almost eight million people in the world don’t have enough food.
How it works
Cafés set up under the Real Junk Food Project banner receive supplies from supermarkets, allotments, food banks, restaurants, and food photographers, to name just a few sources. Local arrangements are made and the cafés use the skills of trained chefs who voluntarily conjure up dishes ranging from a basic lentil soup, to spicy peanut chicken with macaroni cheese and even, on occasion, gastronomic evening plates – as in the case of Armley Junk-tion’s “Best Before Bistro.”
What makes it possible to do this without breaking the law is the fact that at no point is any money exchanged. The suppliers donate food they would have thrown away otherwise and the cafés using it effectively give the food away, with a policy of asking customers to “Pay As You Feel.” Smith says this system allows them to challenge “the grey areas within food laws and regulations in order for common sense to prevail when dealing with food.”
A priceless system
But the real Junk Food Project is not about getting a free meal, insists Smith. In a TEDx talk held at Warwick University, he explained that, “It’s about valuing people and food – the resources, time and energy that goes into making it – and giving back what you think it’s worth. Some people give money, but some give their time and their skills – sweeping or washing the floor, re-wiring the electrics even – a valuable payment for the café in question.”
Nor is the Real Junk Food Project about making money – a principle made abundantly clear by the fact that Adam and the others on the Board of Directors receive no payment whatsoever for their involvement. In fact, they’re looking for a way out.
“Our aim,” says Smith, “is to put ourselves out of business. We don’t want to be doing this in 10 or 15 years’ time. We want the next generation to have more understanding about where their food comes from and where it goes.”