It has been reported in local media that a café in Northampton, England, would be ‘selling food rescued from landfill’. We spoke to the co-founder to find out more about their food recycling vision…
Welcome Shena Cooper. Would you like to introduce Fruitful Abundance and Elsie’s Real Junk Food Café?
Fruitful Abundance started in April 2014, when three, quite foodie people, met and began grumbling about the food system and the amount of wastage. We are all growers, all cooks and we all decided to help people make more use of food. Our initial idea was to teach people how to make jam, preserves and fruit juices, and also how to preserve them. We began working with national and local organisations, one of which was ‘South Court Environmental’. They have large, old orchards where we went and helped to pick apples. We picked other people’s apples too and turned it all into juice; I’d say that was our main project last year.
We also spent some time setting up the background to fruitful abundance; things like the website, paperwork and bank account. During the Autumn we met another foodie called David Williams, who asked if we would help him with his ‘Seedy Saturday’ project. David had been to some seed swaps and decided to start his own, starting with the setting up of a Facebook page. Growing food is part of our mission, so it was great to help him with that.
In the October we took a trip to Leeds and visited the original ‘Real Junk Food Café’, which was fantastic. That wasn’t all that long ago and we had thought that it may take until Autumn 2015 to get a Northampton café up and running, but the location, the supply and the people have all come fell together very nicely. David’s seed swap will also take place at the launch!
Just to dispel any wild rumours, the food is being intercepted from manufacturers who are disposing of it due to damage, and not being collected by scavengers on landfill sites?
Quite. The food as the whole is intercepted before it ever reaches ‘waste status’. All the food is delivered from the manufacturers on big pallets, and it could be something as simple as pierced cling film, or one broken box (that stops it reaching the supermarket), but they don’t take the risk and time re-crating it.
We’ve seen one large food manufacturer who make frozen roast potatoes. They get the bags of potatoes and no matter what size the potato, it’s made into roast potatoes of equal size. That’s a huge amount of potato that is cut off and wasted in the process just to make a one size fits all roast potato.
Where is all the diverted food waste coming from? Have any more manufacturers come forward in support?
Northampton is lucky to have a food collective hub where food is collected that is going to waste, though we only claim things that are in packets or tins. The Phoenix Resources Food Hub in Wellingborough have been really helpful. They do have other business operations, but the main activity now is reclaiming food and sending it to food banks and food kitchens.
We will be able to access packeted and tinned food thanks to their hub, and because the type of produce we are looking for is different from soup kitchens and food banks, we are glad that there will be no competition. There are things like flavoured vinegars and pulses that aren’t much use to a food bank, however we can use the flavours to make great dishes!
We have had a sausage manufacturer offer us bones for making stock, which we are due to collect soon.
With a reported £40,000 of food wasted from your suppliers each month, how much are you hoping to dent that figure by?
Well, it’s actually £40,000 a month being rescued from wastage by the Phoenix Resources Food Hub in Wellingborough! It’s a bit of a misquote that our suppliers are wasting that much food, because our suppliers are saving it!
It’s difficult to estimate how much we can dent that by until we really get going. We can, however, gather an estimate when we look at the Leeds Real Junk Food Café, who publish how much food they have saved and how many people they have fed. They publish this on Facebook and we are hoping to do the same thing in our café!
How often will you be open?
In the week following the launch, we will be doing coffee mornings, but we will soon move to the labour club where there is a small kitchen. After we re-fit that in the future, we can open during daytimes. We will still perform in a pop-up catering capacity for people who support the food rescue and anti-waste mission and want to support awareness for our cause.
Food recycling really requires a large human participation, how do you try and encourage people to get involved?
One of the things is that there has been so much on the TV and radio about the Real Junk Food Project, so once word spread that it was starting in Northampton we gained a lot of attention and welcomed some great people on board!
There are supermarkets who cover their bins in chemicals to stop people from taking useful food items from them. What are your thoughts regarding this?
Why bother? I can’t see the purpose of that, it just seems ridiculous to me. I think they should definitely learn about wastage and the negative effect it has, and they should be donating it to support ventures like ours and soup kitchens. The amount of waste is astounding and makes me very sad. They should make it available.
Luckily not all supermarkets are in the bad habit of doing this. There are guys in Bristol whose Real Junk Food Project is called Skipchen – they are real food divers, one of whom went on hunger strike for 36 hours to raise awareness for the café. Whilst striking he found more than 30 boxes of unopened Quaker oats in a bin!
The launch of this café in Northampton would signal that the food recycling project in Leeds has been a success, what can you tell me about this?
Yes, definitely! It has not only been a success in its own right, but this will be the 12th Real Junk Food Café in the UK, and the founder, Adam Smith, now has cafés in America and France.He is absolutely amazing, 28 years old with a partner and baby, he’s charismatic and determined with a clear idea that swept us away.
A pop-up Real Junk Food Project at Trinity Kitchen – Leeds
We are not a soup kitchen, we are a café for people who hate waste. There is a cross section of society saying ‘isn’t there enough?’. We are saying there is enough, and we should be using the great stuff being thrown away. Our mission is about waste, not about feeding the poor. We want to serve a range of people, from those who can pay more than what the food is worth, to the people who can only pay what they can afford. What isn’t obvious is that there are bills, cleaning, insurance, publicity, storage and equipment that aren’t free, even if the food and volunteers are. By the time the food reaches the plate, there is a cost.
What sort of things can we expect to see on the menu, and will vegetarians and vegans be catered for?
Yes, we are determined to cater for vegans and vegetarians on a daily basis. When we are starting off in the pop-up café, it will be a small menu; on coffee mornings it will be beverages and cakes. We would love to be able to make a really good soup each day, which will often be the vegan or vegetarian option.
Every day we will receive different food from the resource hub, and we don’t know what that will be, the menu will be a mystery to us too!
Thanks for speaking to us Shena!
For the Real Junk Food Project Northampton, click here.