Real junk food

There’s a local ‘business’ in my constituency, the first of its kind, which was created just 18 months ago but has spawned more than 80 offshoots across the UK since it first opened its doors. This ‘business’ makes no profit, sets no prices for its services, and has no paid staff — yet its turnover has been high enough for it to buy its premises outright and to plan an ambitious development. It has developed links with national big-name suppliers and made headlines on several worldwide news networks. Most astonishing of all, its CEO proudly declares that his long-term aim is to put himself out of business.

The organisation in question is the Real Junk Food Project, a café in Armley, Leeds, which serves delicious food cooked from ingredients that would otherwise go to waste. I had the pleasure of visiting the café last week, and meeting its entrepreneurial owner, chef Adam Smith. His passion for the project, and pride in what he’s achieved, is obvious.

The ‘pay as you feel’ system means that each customer is able to make a financial contribution based on their own circumstances and what they think they should pay. Those who can’t pay have the option to contribute in other ways if they’re able, such as doing the washing-up.

As well as providing high-quality food for many thousands of people, regardless of their ability to pay, the project has already intercepted more than 50 tonnes of food that would otherwise go to waste — donated willingly, if discreetly, by some friendly supermarkets and restaurants. Much of it is past its sell-by date, but not necessarily past its use-by date, and certainly still entirely edible.

Adam is clear that his main aim is environmental: to stop so much edible food going to waste. But the social spin-off is enormous too. The project provides reliable square meals for those otherwise unable to afford them — a group of people sadly at record numbers despite government claims of “economic recovery”. In the room behind the main café in Armley, a kind of boutique not-quite-foodbank-not-quite-supermarket offers more free food for those who need it. There’s no problem with the supply chain: Adam confidently declares he could feed all his customers four times over with the food that comes through his doors.

If you’re in the Armley area, I strongly recommend paying the project a visit — the jambalaya is particularly delicious! Or you can use the Real Junk Food Project website to look up any one of the dozens of other pay-as-you-feel venues that are opening almost weekly now across the UK.

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