The Real Junk Food Project is a collaborative effort between catering professionals and activists to bring about a radical change in our food system. Our first step to achieve this challenging task is to intercept perfectly edible food that would otherwise not make it to plate and serve it as meals in the café or distribute it through our food boutique.
As well as the positive environmental impacts of reducing edible food waste the project also has clear social benefits through operating a strictly Pay-as-you-feel (PAYF) policy .
PAYF offers an alternative to the conventional the payment system as there is no price on any produce of the café. Our system transcends monetary transactions and liberates people to use their skills and attributes as well as money to pay for their meals.
Furthermore, we aim to highlight the absurdity that the produce we use has been stripped of its monetary value but still retains its nutritional value. By making people think about what they wish to contribute for their meals, the idea is to get society thinking about how they value food as a resource.
So why does this need to happen?
It is estimated that 1.3 billion tons of food is wasted globally each year, this amounts to nearly 40% of global production, this occurs for a multitude of reasons that vary between regions. In the U.K studies have shown that we waste over 15 million tons of edible food annually due to stringent and confusing food safety legislation. We argue that these laws need to be revised and people need to relearn the common sense practices that were used until and during the Second World War.
Founders and co-directors Adam Smith and Johanna Hewitt started The Real Junk Food Project on the banks of the River Yarrow in Melbourne, using the pay-by-the-minute barbeques to cook up whatever waste food they could lay their hands on. During their time in Australia they witnessed the scale of the food waste scandal. At the same time three of the would-be co-directors were also discovering for themselves the scale of commercial food waste in Adam’s hometown of Leeds through the freegan lifestyle, sustaining themselves and a cohort of other friends from supermarket bins during their time studying in Leeds.
Adam and Johanna realised that something needed to be done. After seeking advice from friends, Adam resolved that he needed to start the process of global change by first changing his hometown. The fact that the couple were now expecting their first child compounded the move back to Leeds to pursue their mission.
On their return to the north of England Adam was lucky to find people who believed in him and his ideas, and in late December was offered access to a struggling community kitchen in Armley, an area of Leeds renowned for high rates of poverty, drug abuse and crime. After hearing about Adam’s project in a local food activist meeting Sam, Conor and Edd (unfortunately no longer involved in the project) met Adam in order to offer him some carrots and parsnips they had reclaimed from a skip, which he gladly exchanged for tofu and crisps, in true PAYF stlye!
From its trial period in December 2013 where Adam and Johanna cooked Christmas dinner for the homeless population of Leeds the café has gone from strength to strength and is now open seven days a week serving meals to a wide demographic of people including three time Tour de France champion Greg Lemond during his stay in Leeds for the Grand Départ. The café is staffed by an enthusiastic team of local volunteers who are the life and soul of the project, without these wonderful individuals the project would not be possible. The concept is not restricted to Armley and other cafes are popping up in other parts of Leeds as well as other cities, all these efforts will be supported by a charitable trust serving as a network.