It is estimated that some half a million Brits are turning to food banks to feed their families. But all the while, the very same country is producing around 15 million tonnes of food waste each year. Is it me or is something just not adding up?
The project distributes food in one of two ways: serving up meals at affordable prices in the Pay What You Feel cafe (customers literally pay what they can afford) and providing a food bank service.
Think of them as the modern day Robin Hoods... just without the stealing.
The Real Junk Food Project volunteer team: (l-r) Issie Hatfield, Issy Burkitt, Ben Muñoz, John Penman, Malvika Singh, Sam Adams, Marianna Musset, Sam Joseph, Adam Smith, Adam Wilson, Juan Muñoz
At first glance this may be enough to turn even the strongest stomach, but rest assured, it's not a gross as it sounds.
"We use our common sense when it comes to selecting food," says Sam Joseph, 24, one of The Real Food Project's directors and a environmental science graduate from Leeds University. "Most of the foods we serve are low-risk, otherwise we're very careful."
"Often 'best before' dates are so arbitrary - who says that bang on 11:59pm some food is going to go off? In our eyes, if a vegetable is not mouldy, then it’s fine to eat."
Real Junk Food Project team member Edd Colbert, 22, International politics graduate and Daisy
The project, which was set up by professional chef, Adam Smith, 28, recently passed an inspection from Environmental Health Organisation (EHO), who are happy with the food being used and the organisation's storage methods.
"In the catering industry, many restaurants are operating the same policy - they just don’t publicise it," says Sam. "A restaurant is hardly going to throw away a joint of expensive meat - they'll cook it and serve it up."
Food sourcing is simple. Volunteers collect the otherwise unwanted produce from local businesses, such as restaurants, supermarkets and markets. Some suppliers, such as Leeds Market, donate regularly, while others donate on an ad-hoc basis.
And this isn't small-scale stuff. This project alone intercepts are 500kg of unwanted food per week (a total of 10 tonnes since January 2014) and the cafe can serve more than 100 meals per day, not to mention the thriving food bank.
The cafe is open most weekdays from 10am-4pm and caters to around 20 regulars (who come every day or every other day).
"The menu differs from day-to-day," says Sam. "We get the bulk of our food from the fruit and veg market, so soups, smoothies and curries are our staple foods.
"But then it really depends on what has been donated. Last weekend we had lots of cured meat come in, so we served up platters; earlier today I had a text message to collect two kilos of ribs, so we'll rustle something up with those."
He added: "We always try and have Sunday lunch."
Conor Walsh, 23, Geography graduate serves two customers
The volunteers do their utmost to keep the cafe open everyday, but due to other commitments (most of them are students) it isn't always possible.
The food bank, on the other hand, is almost always open. And, unlike others, you don't need a referral to use it.
"We try to give people enough food, but not too much as it’s very perishable," says Sam. "We don't want it to seem like a handout, so we give people a bag and they can pick up what they want."
The project is funded through the National Union of Students (NUS) green fund and the small amount of money taken from the cafe. In addition, Leeds Council have kindly granted them zero business rates for a year.
But, with plans for expansion and the need to start paying staff, the organisation is exploring other funding opportunities.
In the next 12 months they hope to raise enough money to buy the cafe building outright or find a new venue, start teaching children in schools about use-by dates and food waste, and starting up urban growing initiatives to help people grow their own food in allotments.
Good luck to them!
Find out more about the project on their Facebook page.
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