My almost six-year-old son, Harry, and I were going to Leicester today, and I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to visit the city’s Real Junk Food Project café if it was open. But before I had a chance to check the opening times I opened my latest Wonky Veg Box, and what was in it but a leaflet about one of the charities they support through food donations: the Real Junk Food Project in Leicester!
Cafes like this are donated food by supermarkets, local shops, allotments, food banks, restaurants, events, and so on, that would otherwise go to waste, and they use this food to prepare delicious and healthy meals (like all other food providers in the UK they must abide by the same Environmental Health regulations so you should not be worried about food safety of ‘waste’ food). The café in Leicester is based in the LCiL West End Neighbourhood Centre and is open Thursday evenings between 7.00pm and 8.30pm, and Friday and Saturday lunchtimes between 11am and 3pm. So, (being a Friday) after Harry and I had got the train to Leicester and paid a visit to the dinosaurs and mummies at New Walk Museum, we set off in search of the café.
It was a 20-25 minute walk from the museum, not including the map-checking, and a brief park-stop (with the biggest slide I have ever seen), but we found it easily and it was worth the trip. I had a fabulous aubergine curry which I would happily eat over and over, and Harry had a simple pasta with tomato and vegetable sauce. While waiting for our food we both had banana milkshakes. Then, following our mains we had banana ‘cookies’ (more like warm cake) with chocolate sauce, which were also yummy and Harry’s favourite part of the meal. I paid £10 for our meals. I could have paid less if I wanted, or more, because that is how it works.
Real Junk Food Project have cafés globally which all operated on a Pay As You Feel basis. At the café in Leicester, there are a couple of donation tins and customers pay what they can afford, or they can pay by volunteering, playing music or washing up. Food that is leftover at the end of service is donated to local food banks. There is also a basket of waste food that customers can help themselves to – in today’s instance, a selection of supermarket-baked bread and bananas with black spots. There was a constant flow of customers from all walks of life. My only criticism was that because it is so well-established there is a bit of awkwardness if you haven’t been there before because you don’t know the ‘right’ way to order. It was also not very clear where to go within the community centre without asking someone. A café along the same lines has recently opened in Loughborough and because it is so new there are leaflets on the table telling customers about the project, and table service which gives the server the opportunity to share this information verbally. However, the café in Loughborough is much smaller so this is more practical than it would be in Leicester.
It is worth checking to see if the Real Junk Food Project operates a café near you. (And if there isn’t anything in your area have a search online because there might well be a similar project that operates independently of the Real Junk Food Project.) They are doing a great thing not just in terms of the redistribution of food waste, but also socially. They are for everyone, not just the homeless or those in food poverty, and in my opinion it is important they stay that way as I believe this normalises it: when we sit beside one another sharing a meal it just shows that we are all equal.