The second Annual General Meeting of ‘The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP)’ was held on the 12th and 13th December at the Richmond Hill Primary School in Leeds, with representatives of pay-as-you-feel cafés from all over England.
During his long experience in the food industry Adam Smith grew sick and tired of seeing the huge amounts of edible products wasted in landfill. In 2013 it led him to create “The Real Junk Food project” (TRJFP), the aims of which can be perfectly described by the motto “feed bellies, not bins”. This project’s goal is to reduce food waste, by recovering outdated – but still edible – food products from the supermarkets and recycling them into healthy meals served in dedicated “pay-as-you-feel” cafes. Learn more about the project here: http://therealjunkfoodproject.org/about/.
Here in York, at the Tang Hall community centre, we have “YourCafé”, a “pay-as-you-feel” canteen connected with TRJFP, founded by Margaret Hattam in March 2015. In the month of October alone, more than 100 meals and 500 refreshments were served by Margaret and other volunteers, using 166 kg of intercepted food waste from local shops!
GreenSTEMS visited the café and enjoyed a delicious three course meal, with soup, vegetable curry and apple crumble! For more info about the cafe’, and opening times and how to get involved, visit http://www.yourcafe.co.uk/.
My interest in YourCafé began after attending the greenSTEMS’ social symposium on food sustainability (“Food sustainability: a hot potato?”, 27/05/15).
To promote this initiative to the student community I helped bake muffins and cake out of scrap flour and loads of apples previously donated to the café; these were served at the Fresher’s Fair this past term. It was great being involved with YourCafe especially with the greater goal of saving food from being wasted.
After taking part in this event, I was invited to represent greenSTEMS at the TRJFP AGM. At first we listened to introductory speeches by the main committee, unveiling how the founder of TRJFP, Adam Smith, started the organisation  as well as the future goals of YourCafé: to open a restaurant alongside the existing café. It was immediately clear that the people who are a part of TRJFP are very passionate about what they do. After these presentations everyone participated in ice-breaker activities, where we introduced ourselves and discussed the hurdles in maintaining the cafés and the extensive work involved in handling scrap food. Later, we were invited to split into groups and the directors and trustees of TRJFP talked about their parts in the project.
My group was led by the head teacher, Mr. Atkinson, the founder of one of the first ‘pay as you feel’ cafés at Richmond Hill Primary School. He described how he started by using school funds to create the café and began by recalling how one of his students broke a window in one of his classrooms. This was his moment of awakening as when asked for the reason behind the vandalism, the student said it was because he came to school thinking he was going to receive a hot lunch when in fact it was cold. From this moment on, Mr. Atkinson made sure all his students could access hot meals.
In order to do this in a sustainable and affordable manner, he started collecting unwanted food items from local shops which could then be used to provide breakfasts and lunches to the students. The school has since found signs of improvement when it comes to student behavior and participation. Studies have underlined the importance of nutrition for growing individuals and how this affects learning performance.
Another interesting initiative created by the school is a website where easy and affordable recipes using a range of ingredients are collected. After this session, we had a very tasty vegan lunch provided by the ‘Life is Sweet – Potato’ organisation. During the meal we had the opportunity to network and get to know each other. An exciting variety of people were present, from lawyers and retired folks, to young men and women who simply wanted to take part in a good cause. At the end of the AGM, a member of TRJFP presented the statistics concerning the food collected and used at the café, who donated food, and how the food was used. Following this, we were all invited to raise topics to discuss as smaller groups. Topics included how to record analytical data, what will happen when food waste is no longer an issue (if this ever happens), opportunities to reach out to a wider audience and increase awareness on the cause, and tips on how to improve administrative operations.
My initial attendance at this meeting was purely for interest, I had no idea how the meeting would commence or what would be discussed. Overall, I enjoyed the people I met and what I learned about the different groups taking part in this cause. I felt part of a very important movement in history for the future of food-use and the economics of food supply. One of the members of the group from the AGM meeting intends to move to the US, where I come from, and open his own pay-as-you-feel café. I would really like to help his mission by providing him a few personal contacts.
It would be great to see such pay-as-you-feel cafés spread throughout the US, as a way to raise awareness on the great amount of food wasted everyday as well as teach how to be creative in the kitchen!
Contributed by Heather Tanner
Heather has just completed her MA in Landscape Archaeology at the University of York.
 Mr. Smith on TEDx at https://youtu.be/HcwCt_8pXb4.