With the amount of food that’s being wasted on an annual basis, and long before food waste became the next big thing on the European Union’s agenda, an aspiring project kick-started in the City of Leeds, becoming the superhero of wasted food by saving it from the bin. The Real Junk Food Project, or TRJFP, was founded by none other than Leeds’ own Adam Smith.

“Leeds is my home city and I came back here after travelling to Australia and seeing food waste on an astronomical level,” Smith tells progrss, explaining what inspired him to start TRJFP in Leeds. Through constant work and development, his idea grew from a cafe reselling wasted food to an international chain of cafes that’s taking cities by storm and feeding thousands.

TRJFP cafes do not just feed the homeless, refugees, asylum seekers or simply the needy—the cafes are open to everyone. As the website states: “In order for us to prove the value and safety of food waste, we couldn’t just feed specific demographics of people. We believe food waste is absolutely fit for human consumption and so that’s who we feed—human beings.”

TRJFP Operations and PAYF Model

“We were mainly vegetarian as this was the only produce we intercepted. It’s now quickly become the entire food spectrum as we now intercept everything from meat, fish and dairy, to dry produce and non-perishables,” Smith says. Although the cafes are individually run, they are supported by a charitable foundation—The Real Junk Food Project Charitable Foundation.

“We intercept waste food, [we do not take] donations. We have access to large supermarkets, food banks, wholesale, cafes, restaurants and many more,” Adam adds. According to the TRJFP website, donated food that has passed the expiration date is inspected.

“We intercept food that is past its expiration date and use our own judgement on whether we believe the food is fit for human consumption or not, by smelling it, tasting it and visually inspecting it. We do not turn food away simply because it has ‘expired,’ but we will never serve food that we believe is unfit for human consumption,” the website reads.

The cafes have a network of employees and volunteers, Smith highlights. Similar to any regular business, the cafes generate profit; however, the organization employs a “Pay As You Feel” (PAYF) model, which is considered a financial donation from the people to keep the cafes going. The PAYF model simply allows customers to enjoy the food and pay the value they believe the meal deserves.

“Every single member of the Real Junk Food Project network operates a Pay As You Feel concept, which allows patrons to give back either financial donations, their time, energy or skills as a way of accessing the food, and to understand the value of the produce,” TRJFP says.

“Every single Pay As You Feel cafe that is part of the Real Junk Food Project network adheres to all Environmental Health regulations within their respective establishment. This includes transporting food safely, storing it safely, cooking and re-heating it safely,” the website adds. “A majority of our cafes in the UK have a 3-or-more star rating from their local health authority.”

“Organic” Growth

The founder emphasizes that TRJFP’s success and growth has been “organic.” Currently, TRJFP is located in seven countries, including England, Scotland, Wales, Berlin, France, and Australia.

The idea eventually expanded beyond the cafes. Late last year, TRJFP opened its very own supermarket, where it resells food that once was deemed waste, becoming the UK’s first food waste supermarket.  The supermarket, called “The Warehouse,” is located on the Grangefield Industrial Estate and is based on the PAYF concept. “The supermarket wasn’t intended; it’s a by-product of our current operations,” Smith says, adding that “if we expand it, it would be such a shame.”

The project’s success also extends to raising awareness about food waste. In December, the TRJFP’s Fuel For School pop-up ‘waste’ toastie shop was launched. From December 5-11, several primary schools from across Leeds participated in the event.

“The opening of a pop-up shop in the city centre will enable The Real Junk Food Project to share the wonders of Fuel for School. This shop will showcase the work done in schools to address the issue of hunger as a barrier to learning, highlight the work that takes place around health and well-being, as well as highlighting the issue of holiday hunger and the global issue of food waste,” Smith said in an official statement. The pop-up shop was coordinated between schools, The Real Junk Food Project, Leeds City Council and St John’s Centre.

This article was edited for clarity on 14 May, 2018. 

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