The Real Junk Food Project founder Adam Smith on how to make restaurant quality meals out of food waste

Smith, who spent ten years working as a chef, cooks restaurant-qualilty meals from food other people throw away

Hazel Sheffield
Monday 19 September 2016 15:51
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The Real Junk Food Project Network on BBC3

"We have some mouldy oranges that I'm going to juice and make a simple syrup. Then I'm going to take a bruised banana that's not fit for sale, it's a bit black, and whack it in the oven on a high heat, and that's it, simple as," says Adam Smith, founder of The Real Junk Food Project.

Smith is used to cooking restaurant qualilty meals from food other people throw away.

He was a professional chef for over 10 years before he came up with the idea for a cafe serving meals made from food past its expiration date. The idea came after he witnessed the scale of the waste in the agriculatural sector and catering industry while travelling in Australia.

Adam set up The Real Junk Food Project with his partner Johanna when he returned to the UK in December 2013, promising to feed bellies, not bins.

Members of the project pick up food past its expiration date from supermarkets and skips. They use their own judgement about whether it is fit for human consumption using their eyes, smell and taste.

Members of The Real Junk Food Project collect food to use in their 'pay as you feel' cafes.

A typical Real Junk Food Cafe might serve lasagne, soups, quiches, salads and cakes. Customers are charged according to what they can afford on a "pay what you feel" basis.

"In terms of food safety, that's been cooked at a temperature that's killed off any bacteria that would have potentially harmed somebody," Smith says in the video, presenting roasted banana with an orange syrup.

Branches have opened all over the UK and across Europe. Smith estimates the cafes have fed nearly half a million people in 30 months. He's even spoken to the South Korean government about taking them there.

It's spawned a new initiative called Fuel For School, diverting food from landfill to feed hungry schoolchildren.

Customers at The Real Junk Food Project, in Armley, Leeds

Fuel For School is operating in 32 schools in Leeds, with plans to launch in Sheffield, Wigan and Bradford.

"I'm hoping for all 236 schools in Leeds by the end of summer 2017," Smith says.

He's also spending three days a week in Sheffield, opening more pay as you feel cafes across South Yorkshire and stopping as much edible food from being wasted as possible.

Research shows that almost 40 per cent of people think that food shouldn't be eaten after the use-by date.

In fact, the use-by date refers to the final day that the product is at optimum freshness, flavour, and texture. After this date, the food will start to decline. But it may still be edible for several days.

"I see kids coming into my cafe that can't afford fruit and vegetables," Adam says. "And yet we're allowed to throw away tonnes of edible food every week. It makes me really really angry."

If Adam has his way, every city in the UK will have a network of pay as you feel cafes with a warehouse attached to make sure edible food gets into the hands of the hungry, rather than rotting at the bottom of a bin.

Find out more about The Real Junk Food Project and Fuel For School.

The Evening Standard, the Independent's sister paper, has launched an investigation on food waste in London. Find out more here.

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