It has been a year since I spent some real time with them, but choosing to capture The Real Junk Food Project Leicester in a photo essay was an inspiring highlight of 2016. To go back a bit, when you finish volunteering with Raleigh International you make a pledge and one of mine was to help organisations back home in the UK that are about the environment, mentoring, charity, or sustainability and although The Real Junk Food Project are not a charity, in many ways they ticks all of those boxes.
From the minute I met Alison and Bobby of the Leicester project, I knew I would gain more in capturing what they do, than what I could offer them in return. Their enthusiasm is infectious and their ethics hugely inspiring. They met as part of the project and now have a baby together. These are two people that gave up their spare time, (as initially they were both working full time), to create a life that was about making a difference. Bobby started the project by working alongside one of the projects in Birmingham and set out to develop a community in Leicester, than not only provides a cafe with delicious meals, but offers catering and educational courses on food and eliminating food waste.
The Real Junk Food Project was originally set up by Adam Smith in 2013 with an aim
“To revolutionise the disposal of avoidable food waste into landfill. The pioneering movement’s manifesto is to: feed bellies, not bins.”
The principal behind the venture is to intercept food waste and offer to the general public on a ‘Pay as you feel’ basis and I have to say, having spent a couple of weeks with the Leicester project, it is incredible how much perfectly good food is wasted in this country. There are now Pay as you feel cafes throughout the UK and even some in Europe and Australia. The website is worth a visit for all those questions that I know you will have, the same as I did when I was first looking in to this project.
For my photo essay, I thought I would take you through a typical week in the lives of Bobby and Alison and their Real Junk Food Project in the heart of Leicester.
Monday consists of a 5:30am start at the fruit and veg wholesalers where Bobby has established a long relationship with the vendors to have his pick of the fresh produce that will no longer be bought due to a shelf life required to make it acceptable for the buyers. I had heard about food waste, but have to say I was astonished by the stacks of crates full of perfectly fresh goods that is fine if used that week, which is what TRJFP Leicester do. As we stack the van, I realise that Bobby is running a business and not a charity. Every quantity is counted for and they are accountable for how they run their project.
By 8am we are back to the kitchen to prepare food for a council catering job that Bobby and Alison have booked for lunchtime of that day.
A trip to a distribution centre is the next regular Monday meeting where they can collect anything from chocolate to packed sandwiches that would normally be for sale in petrol service stations. Again, due to the nature of distribution times, these sandwiches would go to waste, but TRJFP can use them for their catering and cafe within the perfectly acceptable use by dates.
By lunchtime, we are setting up the catering for a council presentation about food poverty in Leicester, so what an appropriate connection to be working for.
The last job of the afternoon is to take the surplus food, that will not last until their cafe at the end of the week, round to the local hostels so the residents there can benefit from it. The amount of miles and time Alison and Bobby cover when it is on an unpaid, volunteering basis is incredible. The catering jobs and courses pay their wages, but the vast majority of what they do is out of their passion for creating change.
Wednesday arrives and I am following them to their weekly visits to collect food from two supermarkets, one of which includes Marks & Spencer. Their van is filled with bags and bags of bread, milk and butter and so many M&S goodies, that I want to shop simply from the back of their van. This is not the food waste I was expecting and really opened my eyes to the whole situation. The Pay as you feel cafe could not work so successfully without these kinds of suppliers getting involved, so hats off to M&S for this.
Thursday is the day I have been waiting for. The day their weekly cafe opens to the community. The morning is spent watching Alison and Bobby run their food course to a group of adults with different life challenges, with a brief gap for lunch and then the volunteers arrive to start cooking for the evening’s Junk Food Project cafe. Amongst the nicest group of people, there is a trained chef, a master of curry, students and people that simply give up their time to be a part of giving back. I learned so much about how every little bit of food is used, saved and prepared for these meals. The cafe offers drinks, meat, vegetarian and vegan meals and desserts and can cater to different requirements on request. They have a food shelf section to donate the food they will not get through to the public on a pay as you feel basis. The community feel is evident in this evening’s cafe, with them even surprising a regular client with a birthday cake that came as part of their collections from the supermarkets.
At the end of the night, people wash up as part of their donation for some food and food is carefully preserved for tomorrow’s lunchtime cafe in guidance with their 5 rating standard for food hygiene. The donations box is counted and price per head calculated based on the numbers they have served. If I had one wish for this amazing team, it would be that they could get more people in to get a higher donation level. For example, £2.30 was the average for this evening’s two course meal! For the amount of work they do and the quality of this food, that is astonishing.
My pledge was to do something to help and I did get The Real Junk Food Project a feature in local Niche Magazine, but if this blog can be shared and I can create a much greater awareness of their project, it would make my day. They have high ambitions for the project and would love their own premises to be able to be open more. Do go and Pay as you Feel. Do go and taste their amazing curries. Do go and see if you want to get involved. Do go and visit any of the cafes around the UK, because what they do, is simply quite awesome.
The Real Junk Food Project Leicester
The Real Junk Food Project