Waste not, want not: Real Junk Food is a recipe for success

We’ve all done it. Asked ourselves whether those mushrooms in the fridge are still safe for use, despite still being in the packaging, or whether that soft cheese you’re smelling is on the turn, before inevitably tossing them out.

As a nation, we have a problem with food waste and use-by dates. What can be done? The Real Junk Food Project thinks it has a solution, with its motto of “Feed Bellies, not Bins.”

Glasgow organiser Laura Wells, who currently operates out of the city’s Kinning Park Complex, points to the common problem of unused food and an alternative way to fix the problem while feeding people along the way.

The Real Junk Food Project, which also has a base in Edinburgh, operates by intercepting food waste from supermarkets and smaller grocery stores and preparing it for people who need it, at whatever price they can afford to pay.

Wells explains: “We uplift food that won’t be used and we take it and cook it up and sell it on a pay-as-you-feel basis. You can just put a donation in the jar or you can help prep some food, or wash dishes or even bring along a guitar and play a song. It’s inclusive of everyone and about whatever value that person wants to put on that food.”

TRJFP2The original idea was hit upon by a young man by the name of Adam Smith. He was angered by the amount of food waste we accumulate and decided to do something about it. Though each operation is run independently, there are Real Junk Food Projects running the length of Britain.

However, given the amount of food poverty in Scotland, and in particular Glasgow, Wells felt it was essential to start one here. She said: “The government aren’t doing enough to help people out who are in need and folks like myself and food banks are subsidising the government doing what they should be doing.”

Working with big supermarkets wasn’t an initial aim of the project , but they have come to realise that the biggest producers of food waste might be key to solving the problem of food poverty. Currently, Wells works with Whole Foods, Marks & Spencer and Morrisons.

She said: “If you don’t get into the mindset of the supermarket I don’t see how you can change anything long term because they’re the key players. It’s brilliant actually because it’s about approaching the big guys and opening their minds to what we’re doing. The project has moved on and Adam (Smith) now deals with the corporate companies. He recently got Sainsbury’s on board so hopefully we’ll now be working with them.”

Working with big supermarket chains, however, is not without its problems. The stigma attached to food waste and their reluctance to accept any responsibility for it can still create issues.

Despite the fact that much of the food Wells accepts is frequently the result of damaged packaging, a failed promotion, or because the store has over-ordered, she’s often sent to the back door to pick up what she can, despite having a contract to collect what the store can’t sell.

Wells said: “With regards to supermarkets, they’re all different. I didn’t realise [at the start] how different they would all be. Some are a lot stricter than others. I know that one in particular probably still chucks out the majority of stuff that they’re not selling but Whole Foods are a bit more keen to get everything out there and then I can pick what I want to use and what I don’t.”

The real problem Wells has identified is changing public perception concerning food waste and what can be done to tackle food poverty. It appears on the surface to be a simple solution, with stores wasting so much of it while so many people go hungry.

Yet Wells has been encouraged by the growing public support the Real Junk Food Project has received and the amount of people she has managed to feed. Recently they were shortlisted for a Streets Ahead Award.

She said: “I’ve been really pleased and surprised to see how it’s snowballed. The project in Glasgow has fed about 350 people using 500kg of food in the last six months, and that’s only with me doing it twice a month. I think to get that volume of food out in that short space of time is quite a success.”

For more information, go here: http://therealjunkfoodproject.org/

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