In 2016, the UK’s first food waste supermarket opened its doors in Leeds. Progress! Volunteers from food waste campaigning group Real Junk Food Project run the warehouse of leftovers, donated by supermarkets that otherwise would have thrown it all away. The store receives between two to ten tonnes of food every single day, available to anybody who needs it.
Shoppers at the supermarket are asked to pay what they feel the food is worth to them. For those with no money, they ask that you trade whatever time you can afford to give to the project, and whatever skills you can afford to share with the community. Adam Smith, the founder of Real Junk Food Project, understands the tried and tested success of the ‘Pay As You Feel’ initiative; he’s no stranger to the injustice of obscene food waste.
Previously a chef in Australia, Smith began work on a farm in order to extend his work visa, and saw the owner feeding a fresh tonne of courgettes to his pigs because he didn’t have the “logistics to get it where it needs to go”. Smith returned to Leeds, and, without taking a wage, started the first ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafe selling food made from ingredients that would have been wasted by supermarkets. There are now 120 of these cafes set up across the world, across America, Australia, and even Israel.
"Usually we donate [leftover food] to local schools but over the summer we ended up with all this surplus and we wondered how we would get rid of it," Smith said. "We moved it to one part of the warehouse, put a notice up on social media asking people to come and get it, and it just went mad."
Alongside the "Pay As You Feel" cafes and the food waste supermarket, Smith helps deliver all resources left over to hungry schoolchildren. Fuel for School provides food to families that can’t afford to feed their children when they go to class. The work they do now feeds 12,000 children a week. Smith hopes that Fuel for School and the food waste supermarket will roll out across the rest of the UK too, after catching on in a big way up north.
But action is erupting from the south as well. London based paper The Evening Standard, in a new campaign called "Food for London," has pledged to tackle the outrageous excess of food waste in the capital. Plastered across its front pages circulating the Tube this week is the naked truth: why does our country throw away millions of tonnes of fresh produce when 400,000 Londoners are trapped in food poverty?
"Food for London," in partnership with The Felix Project, aims to redistribute surplus food to charities for the homeless, the elderly, and those with mental health issues. The Evening Standard, investigating food waste, concluded that just 3% of food is currently donated — the rest is thrown away.
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According to its investigation, if supermarkets “were to double the food they donate to charity to 16,000 tonnes — still a tiny proportion of the perfectly good food they throw away — that would provide 732,000 meals countrywide every week for a year and go some way to ameliorating food poverty in the capital.” Food waste is not just a problem for London, but progress like this goes a long way. Yet, we’re still limping behind other Western economies that seemingly see sense. At the start of this year, France banned supermarkets from throwing away excess food. Now, all waste must be delivered to charities or food banks by law.
Leeds is leading by example. London is following suit. One third of the four billion metric tonnes of food that’s produced globally every year is wasted. Within the EU, the UK is one of the worst offenders, throwing away 15 million tonnes of food every single year. Where does it go? Not to the people that need it most. The UK must not wait - this must change now.