Monday, 6 July 2015

Lifestyle | The Real Junk Food Project Leeds

Did you know that over a billion tonnes of food gets wasted worldwide, every single year? It's hard to understand or imagine such a staggering figure when you consider all the millions of starving and malnourished people we have in the world...

It was earlier this year whilst taking part in the BBC Shortform competition (read about it here) when I first found out about The Real Junk Food Project, an amazing anti food waste concept that started in Leeds, which has now grown to have over 80 different cafe's worldwide.

What's it all about?

The Real Junk Food project is a movement. The concept is simple, food which is perfectly safe to eat but which would have otherwise been thrown away and ended up in a landfill is intercepted/collected from different sources, and then used to create meals in the PAYF (pay as you feel) cafe's. Food is intercepted from all sorts of places - supermarket bins, allotments, food banks, markets - all of which is completely safe to eat but because of how our society treats food and the ridiculous best before dates etc, it would have gone to waste. They are the UK's only PAYF cafe's that use purely intercepted food waste to create their menus, with their motto being "Feed Bellies, Not Bins".

And when they say it's PAYF they really mean it. Anyone can eat at the cafes wether they have money or not, from all backgrounds and walks of life, you just pay exactly what you feel. If you don't have money to give you can instead offer your skills, wether that's helping in wash up in the kitchen or even helping with DIY things such as rewiring the electrics (which they've had offered at the Armley cafe!). Everyone has something that they can give, therefore anyone is welcome to a plate of their food.

So how did it all start?

It all began when Adam (the creator), was working on farms in Australia and was shocked at how how much food would be wasted. The supermarkets would cancel orders at the last minute and the farmers would then just plough all the perfectly fine produce back into the ground. He'd worked as a chef for 9 years previously so was already aware of the issues around food waste, but the waste he encountered on the farms really opened his eyes to where the problem with food was. It wasn't that there was a lack of food in the world, it was that we were wasting it.

It was when he was the head chef at a Melbourne restaurant that he came across another restaurant called "Lentil As Anything" which was pioneering the pay as you feel concept. So when he finally returned to the UK he decided to bring the concept with him, and expand it to a network of PAYF cafe's.

But why Leeds? When he first shared his idea with a guy working on a farm in Australia, the guy told him "You can't change the world. Nobody can, just because they decide to. If you set out with that idea you'll fail. Make a change in your home town first and watch it spread". So he did. Starting with the Armley Cafe in his home town of Leeds, and before long cafe's were opening up all over the UK and even further a field!

You can see Adam's inspiring Tedx Talk below, where he discusses some of the biggest intercepts they've had so far and really explains the whole concept well. It's worth a watch.

How You Can Get Involved In Leeds - The City Junk-tion

Since the city cafe opened in Leeds in May I've had the pleasure of being able to volunteer some weekends, helping to prep food and take orders from customers. What I've got in return is not only the satisfaction of being able to give back to the city I live in but also to actually learn so much about preventing food waste in my own cooking, and of course all the cooking tips I've picked up from Adam (he has been a head chef after all!).

I'd really love it if more could volunteer and get involved, or even just come down to the cafe to eat, showing your support for the cause and helping to reduce the food waste in our city. Here's a few snaps of the city centre cafe based in Santiago's in the Grand Arcade. Please do give it a visit!

I think what's really interesting about Adam and the Junk Food Project is that his aim is to actually put himself out of business. He doesn't want the cafe's to exist in 10 years time because he wants people to have changed the way they think about food, so that there's no food waste for them to intercept and therefore no need for the cafe's to continue running.

I really hope he achieves this too.

Before I leave you, here are 7 ways you can start reducing your food waste at home today:

1. Practise FIFO (first in first out rule) when unpacking your shopping. Moving older products to the front of the fridge so you're more likely to use it up before it goes off.

2. Do the sniff test - Just like you would to check if your milk was ok to use or not. If food still smells ok then it's most likely still perfectly fine to eat, despite what it's label might say.

4. Use it all up! Try use every part of food whatever you're cooking. i.e, leave the potato skins on, turn veg/meat scraps into stock.

5. Monitor what you throw away - Are you chucking away half a loaf of bread every week? Try freezing it as soon as you buy so you can use it for longer.

6. Cut away any brown/mouldy parts - Food can still be perfectly safe to eat despite it going brown or mouldy in places. You simply cut off the parts that have it on and if the other parts smell/taste fine then they're good to go! Honest!

7. Make sure you're storing food correctly - Many of us don't realise that we might be storing food wrong, and that with some simple storage alterations we could make our food last much longer. Check out this very handy guide from "Love Food Hate Waste" to find out more. 

Thanks so much for reading, and I hope you get chance to visit the nearest Junk Food Project cafe to you very soon! 

Gabby xo


  1. What a great idea and what a great post! It's such a shame I've just moved from Leeds because I'd have loved to have visited this cafe or even volunteered like you. Since being a student and starting to budget, I've realised how much food I was wasting before. Now I totally ignore Best Before dates and ALWAYS do a sniff test. Some vegetables can last for literally weeks after their Best Before date!

    Really enjoyed this post :)

    1. Hi Jill,

      Thank you so much for your kind comments, so glad to hear you're already good at avoiding food waste yourself! :)

      There are actually cafes all over the UK now so I'm sure there'll be one near you that you could pop into if you get chance! Let me know how you find it if you do :)

      Thanks so much again! xoxo

  2. This is a wonderful idea and even more brilliant that you are working on the project every now & then too. You lovely lady.

    I always stock my fridge in date order now! But it is true, it makes you use things up more. It's a shame things go to waste so often!

    Keep up the good work, and spreading the word about this!

    Bee xxx

    1. Aw thank you so much sweetie! I'm actually involved with a new one opening on brigate next month which is going to be exciting! You should come down one weekend :) xoxo

  3. I think this sounds incredible! It's such a simple but effective solution to stop the wasting of food. This is such a great project, and it makes me wish I lived in Leeds honestly. (Oh, and extra tip: If you can't finish food...give it to your brother, he'd finish it in less than a minute)

    xx Bash | Bash Says Hey | bloglovin'

    1. Thank you so much - glad you like the idea and hopefully there'll be a cafe close to where you live! They're all over the uk now! :) xoxo

  4. I'm from Leeds and had actually heard about this but thought it was a pop up, I'm definitely going to visit - what a good cause!

    India |

    1. Thanks lovely you definitely should! I'm involved with a new one opening on brigate that's going to be really good - should pop in if you get the chance :) xo

  5. Sounds a cool project! =D

    NEW POST on


    1. Thanks Jess! It is a brilliant idea! :) xoxo


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