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'Real junk food', anyone?

UK ex-chef turns 'out-of-date' food into edible meals

When former chef Adam Smith opened a small cafe in Britain's industrial north two years ago, serving up dishes with food destined for the scrap heap, he had big aspirations - to fight global food waste.

"From Day One, I set out to feed the world and I intend to do that," the Yorkshireman said ambitiously, as he charted the growth of his ethical empire - the Real Junk Food Project (RJFP).

From its humble roots in a community centre in the deprived Armley district of Leeds, northern England, the project now has around 120 affiliated cafes worldwide, including Australia, France, South Korea, the US and most recently, Nigeria.

"People are beginning to realise we are a serious organisation," said Mr Smith, having just returned from an awareness-raising event feeding MPs at Britain's parliament with food saved from garbage bins.

The simple concept involves collecting food that would otherwise have been thrown away - usually because it is "out-of-date" and unsellable under trading rules - and turning it into perfectly edible meals.

Since the project began in December 2013, almost 200 tonnes of food has been "intercepted", Mr Smith told AFP.

Roughly one third of the food produced in the world for human consumption every year - approximately 1.3 billion tonnes - gets lost or wasted, according to the UN.

By offering meals on a "pay-as-you-feel" basis, RJFP cafes sidestep food regulations since it is against the law in Britain to sell food past its use-by date.

Mr Smith's formulation is tantamount to a voluntary donation, with the amount up to the customer, which keeps all on the legal side of matters, he said.

The team, meanwhile, is discriminating - not all food is accepted.


Said Mr Smith: "We make our own judgment, by tasting and smelling, as to whether food is fit for consumption."

Helped by around 90 volunteers, retiree Shena Cooper runs "Elsie's" cafe in the town of Northampton, central England, as part of the RJFP network.

Volunteers face the challenge of creating tasty dishes from whatever food is available, but this is "part of the joy for them", said Ms Cooper.

At Elsie's "binner" event this month, a guest chef transformed discarded local produce into a three-course feast of gourmet crostini with pear salsa, sausage plait with polenta cake, and a chocolate fig dessert.

In north London, a pair of entrepreneurs have harnessed what they believe is a growing aversion to the food-wasting mindset.

Ms Tessa Cook and her American business partner Saasha Celestial-One launched an app called Olio to connect consumers with sources of surplus food.

The app allows donors to upload pictures of items that may be nearing their sell-by-date and users can browse for food and arrange a pick-up via private messaging.

So far the pair have signed up 15 individuals and businesses willing to share produce.

From Day One, I set out to feed the world and I intend to do that.

- Mr Adam Smith