The Real Junk Food Project is undoubtedly one of our favourite anti-food waste initiatives of the past year. The non-profit started as a single café, set up by chef Adam Smith in December 2013, serving delicious meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis, from food that would otherwise have gone to waste. Since opening, the café has intercepted more than 50 tonnes of surplus food, fed thousands of people from the local community and inspired more than 40 cafes to open across the UK, all operating under the Real Junk Food Project umbrella.
One such café is Save the Date, run by Ruth and James. Recently opened in our neighbouring Dalston, London, the café was built totally from scratch using reclaimed materials. It’s now open three days a week, offering up tasty lunches and snacks from veggie stews, soups and chicken curries to vegetable crisps and fruit smoothies. The menu changes daily, of course, depending entirely on the food they intercept from market stalls, restaurants and shops across London. As James explains, “everyday we do an inventory of everything we’ve got from interception, then I sit down for two hours, going over every recipe that I’ve ever learnt and working up a nice menu.”
Hidden away, the outdoor café, has already attracted plenty of attention. “It’s a real mixed bag. We have young people coming in, we have London’s oldest freegan, Bez (he’s been freegan for about 40 years), we’ve had a few ladies from the local church as well as homeless people in the area who come by for a good meal. It’s a nice mix of people, which is exactly what we wanted to achieve”. Indeed, the project is as much about using surplus food as it is bringing communities together. The pay-as-you-feel policy means that anybody can come and enjoy a good meal, whether they have the money or not. By making it inclusive, the project does an invaluable job of showing people that intercepting food waste is not solely the job of food banks. It’s food that anybody can enjoy and eat, from those that really need it to those who can afford it. Ruth and James sum it up: “it’s just people who don’t believe in waste, who don’t think the system works at the moment and who want to consume ethically”.
After a while we get talking about the original Leeds café, which is fighting a rent increase and possible closure. The café has made a huge impact in the community: “there are clear statistics showing that they’ve lowered local suicide rates and in an area where there’s high unemployment, they’ve helped a large selection of people”. Fortunately, the project has attracted a huge amount of public support and media attention to support their case, as well as helping them to raise further awareness around the moral and environmental implications of food waste.
Operating a voluntary payment system, the project goes some way to uncovering the corruption of a system that packages food as a commodity to be bought and wasted in abundance. Even on a small scale, by intercepting and transforming huge amounts of wasted food into delicious meals for local communities, the project highlights the dysfunction of our food production and distribution systems, showing simply that food waste is avoidable and unnecessary. Long may it continue.
Save the Date café is currently open on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday lunchtimes, at 2 Abbot Street, London, E8 3DP