The Blog

The Real Junk Food Project Brighton

"These are all the way from Peru, look at these beauties," Sarah beams as she offers me some blueberries. "They have flown half-way round the world only to end up in a bin in Brighton." The sumptuous berries had been rejected by supermarkets simply due to a sticky mark on the packaging.

Self-professed green activist, mother and, as I observed, blueberry enthusiast, Sarah Betts, with long dreads and a khaki t-shirt, works alongside project organiser Adam Buckingham as a director of The Real Junk Food Project Brighton. Their mission is to intercept food waste and use it to create dishes for the local community to enjoy on a pay-as-you-feel basis.

Starting as a volunteer when the project began in 2014, it 'ticked so many boxes' that Sarah jumped at the chance to later become a director. For her the focus is 50/50 between the environmental issues and the culture.

"I definitely have respect for how much of the earth's energy and resources have gone into a single packet of blueberries."

The clarity of this thought highlights just how criminal it is that so much food imported to the UK is destined for the bin.

The close community created here is the delicious cherry on top (a cherry they no doubt rescued from a dire fate), and for fine arts graduate and former chef Adam (who has now joined us having averted a delivery crisis) it has become the best part of the whole thing.

"There are few places where you see the mayor, businessmen, students and the socially disadvantaged all coming alongside one another to share a meal."

The inspiration behind this community cafe in Brighton actually came from another Adam, Adam Smith, founder and co-director of global initiative, The Real Junk Food Project.

Born and raised in Leeds, and a professional chef for over ten years, Adam Smith was working in restaurants and on farms in Australia when he noticed the scale of wastage in both the catering and agricultural industries.

When a colleague told him, "You can't change the world unless you change your hometown first", Adam used a business model from Melbourne called Lentil as Anything, and returned home to Leeds intent on making an impact, with big plans to intercept food waste and sell it in a cafe.

Since the first cafe in Armley opened three years ago, through word-of-mouth and social media, things have grown enormously and there are now 125 Junk Food cafes worldwide.

Brightonian Adam heard about the project online when he saw a video of food interception in action in Leeds.

"Something resonated with me", Adam recalls, and he emailed the project a note of thanks for their hard work.

The challenging response he received would eventually culminate in him quitting his job and focusing full time on his own branch of the global network.

It was a slow process finding investment, space, food and volunteers - Adam was on benefits for a year and a half, and even now things remain tight.

This is a not-for-profit initiative, however long-term volunteer, Jacqui Loton, tells me that the pay-as-you-feel concept does not see a lot of money being given and they do struggle to cover the costs.

"There are hidden costs" Jacqui says. "Many people assume they are doing a service eating food that would otherwise be thrown away, but there are costs involved in bringing that food to the table, such as rent, fuel, van maintenance."

They subsidise this by running a private catering company alongside the project and this is what keeps things ticking along.

Adam lives with no regrets though, telling me "it was the best move I ever made."

Since their first paid gig when they borrowed a cafe's kitchen after hours and wheeled food across to a warehouse using a small marquee and heat lamps to cater an event for over 200 people, "we kind of just bodged it really, but it went down really well", word spread and they are now adept at catering all kinds of events, from yoga retreats to weddings.

There are cafes running over three locations in Brighton five-days a week with 120 volunteers on the books and hundreds of people showing up each week.

"We get a lot of regulars, a lot of elderly people come in because they enjoy the restaurant type atmosphere without the unaffordable prices", Jacqui tells me.

Having now established the project and taken note of the extent of waste, the next priority is education.

The hope is to buy their own space and run a 7-day-a-week cafe and community space, holding workshops to educate people of all ages about food and food waste.

As they say, 'Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.'