The Real Junk Food Project began in Leeds in December 2013, after chef Adam Smith returned from Australia with a vision to feed the world. The project intercepts food that would otherwise go to landfills and feeds it to humans on a pay-as-you-feel basis. The first cafe opened in Armley and remains the hub of a growing network. There are now nine cafes in Leeds and some as far afield as Cape Town, South Korea and Melbourne.

Food waste is a huge and highly topical issue. Up to 30% of the UK’s vegetable crop is never harvested as a result of industry standards not being met. Globally, retailers generate 1.6 million tons of food waste annually for the same reason. Other factors, such as cosmetic blemishes, unnecessary best before dates and supermarket buying power, mean we throw away 19 million tons of food in the UK each year, a shocking waste of water, energy, labour and land.

Supermarkets are able to push the blame for this waste up and down the chain, with households and farmers bearing the brunt. There is now a nationwide ‘gleaning’ network, where farmers can have their crops picked by volunteers after supermarkets cancel their orders or decide the cauliflowers are the wrong shade of beige (true story). The network recently saved 8.8 tons of green beans from Exeter, 1.5 tons of cauliflower from Lancashire and 2.2 tons of broad beans from Devon.

The Real Junk Food Project aims to tackle this issue on a human level. The project intercepts and collects food from supermarkets, food banks, farms, retailers and restaurants to turn it into meals. People can donate cash, time or skills, and anyone can eat and be social, regardless of their financial situation. The volunteers at the project are not there to judge why someone chooses to dine with them. They just want the food to be eaten.

As an example of the scale of food waste, the project in Leeds recently intercepted four tons of cherry tomatoes from a wholesaler which were deemed not fit for sale. There was one mouldy tomato in one of the boxes.

The Manchester arm of the project is operated by its directors Corin Bell, who has worked with the council and Friends of the Earth, and Adele Jordan, who also set up the Cracking Good Food cookery schools and community cooking network in 2010. They are currently running pop-up events in the area while searching for permanent premises in Manchester city centre.

Wherever you’re based, the city and regional groups are always on the lookout for people to lend a hand on either an ad hoc or more involved basis. If you’re interested you can get in touch via the website, Twitter or Facebook.

Photo by Jason Ruffell