Waste Not. Want Not...

The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP) in Armley, Leeds is unlike anything I have ever experienced before and it has opened my eyes to both the poverty that exists on our doorstep and the ugly amount of unnecessary and avoidable waste that is sent to landfill every day. That said, it has also affirmed my belief that there are many good, selfless people out there who truly want to support those who are in need of a helping hand.

Ben and I arrived at the café just before opening time to meet with Payam and Trish, two of the many incredibly generous people who give up their free time to provide a service that not only reduces waste food but also feeds thousands of people every year. After a warm welcome and a tour around the café, we were invited to oversee the first task of the day, producing a balanced menu from whatever food happens to have been ‘intercepted’ from some of the various food vending establishments around Leeds.

This was the first of many incredible sights that I witnessed. It was inspiring to watch Payam, a chef with no formal training, conjure up a selection of delicious meals on the spot with only the ‘waste food’ he had been provided. We’ve all had frustrating moments in our own kitchen, when you’ve run out of olive oil or there isn’t enough of a certain ingredient for your favourite dinner. Where we are able to just pop to the shops and replenish our stores, TRJFP can’t and don’t. If the café runs out of sugar or bread it becomes a waiting game until the day that a café or shop in the city throws out a crate of goods that TRJFP needs. Goods, I should quickly add, that are past their ‘legal sell by date’ but still perfectly safe to eat for days, weeks or in some cases even months after they have been deemed ‘unusable’ by the inefficient regulations set by our government.  

As people started to arrive at the Café it was apparent that this initiative is providing food to those who need it most. Beyond that, it was providing a sort of safe-haven to people who were going through a rough spell in their lives. We sat down with some of the regular visitors and talked at length about how this café provided a place where people can come to eat, socialise and keep out of the cold. They were able to  relax and take a break from the stress and pressures of everyday life.

The community that surrounds TRJFP is the fuel that keeps the initiative running. The café works on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis meaning that the food is not free, as a customer you pay what you can whether that be a small or large donation towards the upkeep of the cafe or a donation of your time, energy or services to the cafe. Time and labour act as currency here, which further strengthens the idea that everyone who enters the café is equal. Whether you arrive in a flash car throwing wads of cash around or if you come and enjoy a meal in exchange for hanging a picture on the wall or replacing a light bulb you will be treated exactly the same. This was another aspect of TRJFP that impressed me; the café is a prejudice free zone allowing people from all walks of life to enjoy the service they provide in a comfortable environment.

Since Adam Smith founded this great organisation in 2013 the pay as you feel ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ has gone from being the first of its kind in the UK to one of 47 that are now dotted around the country. Furthermore, by trademarking his business model and providing a free ‘blueprint’ for TRJFP, Adam can ensure that all future TRJFP franchises are working efficiently towards the same end goal of abolishing food waste and feeding the world.

In this day and age no one should be going to bed hungry, TRJFP is revolutionising the way we look at ‘waste food’ and it has given us a solution to two of the world’s greatest problems.

As of January 1st 2015 The Real Junk Food Project could be kicked out of their premises unless they can raise a whopping £130k.

If YOU want to make a difference today, share their story and donate to their cause here and keep The Real Junk Food Project open.