The UN Sustainable Development Goals cover a wide range of areas, all of which when achieved will improve the quality of life for generations to come. In 2014, I set my own goal to eliminate food waste. I certainly didn’t have the power or influence of the UN but I had the desire, passion and determination to compensate for this – these traits have helped me create change and start to make a difference.
Having witnessed food waste on an industrial scale whilst working on a farm in Australia, I decided to return to England and use my skills as a chef to open a café and serve food prepared exclusively from surplus food sources. When sharing my vision for The Real Junk Food Project I was laughed at on a number of occasions and told it was ‘unsustainable’, and that’s before I told everyone there would be no set price for the food because I wanted to operate on a “Pay as you feel” basis.
With the support of a passionate group of volunteers, I began to intercept food from supermarkets and create nutritionally balanced meals for the community of Leeds who in turn paid as they felt for the food. As the amount of food we rescued rose, so did the media interest and that triggered enquiries from equally driven individuals to open their cafes.
In total, there are now 127 cafes around the world, all operating in partnership with The Real Junk Food Project.
TRJFP has now extended into the field of education and our Fuel for School programme is delivered to 60 schools across Leeds, Bradford, Sheffield, Wigan, Brighton and Durham. This project has been designed to remove hunger as a barrier to learning, improve wellbeing outcomes for children and their families and highlight the global issue of food waste. This programme runs 52 weeks a year and provides a solution to the issue of holiday hunger faced by many children outside of term time.
More recently, we opened the first “Sharehouse” – a supermarket stocked with surplus food and available to communities on a pay as you feel basis.
The impact made so far by The Real Junk Food Project has been considerable. However, to be able to scale up our work and fulfil our goal of really feeding the world we require investment. Our logistics team work at capacity using a limited fleet of vans and cars to transport the food. Our educational team, with the support of Leeds Beckett and Leeds University are in schools everyday and our chefs are producing meals in cafes but also for events, including weddings and other celebrations. We have plans to launch a National Team who will be able to work with regional groups to replicate the success of the early projects.
The data that we collect on a daily basis indicates how valuable our work is both socially and environmentally and we are happy to share this data with interested parties.