26 Jul
  • By Drew Ganger

The Real Junk Food Project uses food waste to fight hunger

In 2013 chef Adam Smith became frustrated with the immense scale of food waste. To help solve the food waste problem, Smith started the first Real Junk Food cafe in Leeds, England. Recovering food from supermarket waste bins, Smith and his Real Food cafe sold the recovered food on a “pay as you feel” basis. Soon Real Junk food spread around the world. Smith says he “shared our model like an open source concept.”

Now there are over 120 cafes around the world and the Real Junk Food Project has expanded to include share houses and a Fuel for School project. Cafes prepare and serve recovered food on a pay as you feel basis. Those who cannot pay can still eat while helping reduce food waste. Share Houses do not prepare or serve food, instead making recovered food available to for people to collect and take home. The Fuel for School project is partnered with schools to provide students in need with intercepted food and educate them on ways to avoid food waste.


Real Junk Food collects damaged or past its “sell by” or “best by” food from supermarkets and some restaurants, food that would otherwise be sent to a landfill, and redistribute it. Cereal in a damaged box is often thrown out even though the packages inside are still sealed. When packaged food passes the “sell by” date supermarkets can not sell it anymore, but it is still edible.

Nathan Atkinson, the head of Richmond Hill Primary in Leeds. Atkinson and the Richmond Hills teachers struggled to get students to learn and their behavior was “just atrocious and we realized some of them hadn’t had a hot meal in a week” says Atkinson. He met Adam by chance and asked him to start a cafe in his school. Adam said “no thanks. But you can do it.” Richmond Hill is in a food desert where it is nearly impossible to buy fresh fruits and vegetables, but Atkinson visited a wholesaler half a mile away and “straightaway they gave us 27 boxes of bananas and ten boxes of cucumbers.” Using only waste food the school now feeds 650 children breakfast every day and students’ attendance and attention have improved.

Adam Smith encourages anyone to open their own cafes and Fuel for School programs to help feed people using the nearly ⅓ of perfectly good food that is lost or wasted. “Success,” he says, “will be measured by when we are no longer needed”