Junk food


Junk food cafes, surplus redistribution and community feasts – Elise Rana Hopper looks at how the region is tackling food waste

Angolan salad, Gambian jollof rice, Pakistani aloo gobi – and Northumbrian sausages with wild garlic mash. This is the Magic Hat Café, serving up a Sunday dinner with a difference – or rather, lots of differences.

IMG_2369For today’s banquet, a collaboration with Culture Connect (a Newcastle charity supporting asylum seekers, refugees and migrants by offering volunteering programmes) has brought the global flavour, volunteers have brought their time, and the price is ‘pay as you feel’.  As for the food itself – it’s all rubbish, or it would have been had it not been intercepted and turned into this.

“We always get good feedback about the quality of the food,” says Magic Hat Café co-founder Duncan Fairbrother. “Most of us can buy whatever we want, whenever we want, and we’ve lost track of what food is and where it comes from. It’s important we put that value back into food, and learn what’s involved in producing it.”

According to the UN, one third of the world’s food goes to waste. Celebrity chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall has been a poster boy for the campaign to stop the rot, his BBC War on Waste programmes illustrating issues such as supermarket demands for cosmetically appropriate vegetables, as evidenced by a mountain of perfectly edible, but non-saleable, parsnips from one Norfolk farm alone.

The subject has also been steadily creeping up the global political agenda. Here in the UK, a food waste reduction bill has received cross-party support, calling for incentives to encourage individuals, businesses and public bodies to reduce waste and legislating to force large supermarkets, manufacturers and distributors to do likewise.

However, there is a long way to go. New figures from Love Food Hate Waste, which take beef as an example, show that the UK throws away 34,000 tonnes of beef,  the equivalent of 300m burgers, every year.

shutterstock_374199208According to its research, only a third of people who buy beef in Newcastle plan their meals in advance and purchase only the amount they need. A traditional roast beef dinner was named the city’s favourite beef dish and 27% picked it as their most frequent beef dish to eat at home. This was followed by spaghetti Bolognese and a steak dinner.  However, not everyone got around to using it up. One in six Newcastle residents who bought beef said it had gone to waste as they had left it to go past the use by date, while 10% admitted they’d thrown it out after leaving it uncovered or in an open packet.

There are signs that big business is listening, including the introduction of cut-price ‘wonky veg’ at Asda and Morrisons, M&S’ scheme to connect all its stores with local food charities via the Neighbourly social media platform, or Sainsbury’s support for food redistribution charity FoodCycle and Tesco’s link with FareShare.

Magic-Hat-Cafe-CREDIT-Shy-B-PhotographyDistributing 25 tonnes of food a month to local charities, community centres and cafés from an industrial estate in Newburn, Newcastle, the North East branch of FareShare has seen its operations increase threefold since 2011. On the day I visit, boxes of cornflakes stretch to the ceiling in a warehouse the size of two tennis courts, and the charity is calling for volunteers and more community businesses to get involved.

In March the charity WRAP unveiled the Courtauld Commitment, a voluntary agreement to cut the resource wasted in food and drink by one fifth by 2025, with signatories including major UK retailers and global brands such as Coca-Cola, Nestle and Unilever.

At the other end of the spectrum, grassroots initiatives have emerged. Durham is home to a branch of FoodCycle, which brings volunteers, surplus food and free kitchen space together to provide communal meals and a remedy to social isolation for those in need.

The Magic Hat Café is part of the Real Junk Food Project, a global network of pay-as-you-feel cafes turning surplus food into healthy meals for an appreciative public.

In a 2015 TedX talk, Real Junk Food Project founder and chef Adam Smith
showed a picture of 15,000 cupcakes saved from the bin after a Children in Need World Record event he explained why the pay-as-you-feel model is important: “I look at that and I don’t see cupcakes. I see flour, eggs, sugar, labour, water,” he said. “It’s not about getting a free meal – it’s about valuing the resources, energy, and time that has gone into creatinga meal and giving back what you feel it’s worth.”

Half of food waste comes from the home – we throw away a day’s worth every week – and when it comes to inspiring behaviour change, a sense of community helps – even if that community is virtual (see Hubbub UK’s eminently hashtaggable campaigns #festivefreeze, #pumpkinchallenge and #littlelunch).

There are also growing instances of social technology catering to the nascent food-sharing economy, such as free app Olio, which connects neighbours and local businesses to exchange surplus food.

Here, the until-recently pop-up Magic Hat Café is putting down roots at Newcastle’s Broadacre House and, along with fellow Magic Hatter Jess Miller, Duncan has set up Ugly Duckling – a social enterprise aimed at integrating food waste prevention into a city-wide food policy, funded through the sale of cold-pressed juices ‘upcycled’ from surplus fruit and veg.

“We’re trying to end avoidable food waste and build a community,” says Duncan. “People are coming together and learning to think differently about food.”

www.themagichatcafe.co.uk / www.fareshare-northeast.org.uk / www.lovefoodhatewaste.com



wastePlan ahead: When you’re food shopping, plan meals rather than just buying everything that looks nice. Take a shelfie: Taking a picture of the inside of your fridge or store cupboard before you go shopping means you won’t double up on items you already have.
Store smart: Remember that not all foods are best kept in the fridge – treat salad like cut flowers instead.
Leftover day: Have one day a week where you use up what you’ve got in the cupboards, be it in a soup, stew or stir-fry.
Super savers: Before roasting a chicken, cut the wings off and freeze them. After three or four roasts you’ll have enough wings to cook for another meal. Freeze leftover sausage to make sausage rolls.

More here: www.lovefoodhatewaste.com


shutterstock_394926736Marinades are a quick and easy way to pep up meat that is almost at its use-by-date or has been in the freezer for a while. Just put chicken fillets, beef steaks or chops in the marinade for about 30 mins in the fridge, turning once. For a chicken marinade, use soy sauce, honey and mustard.  For beef try chilli flakes, ginger and coriander, and for lamb use garlic, rosemary and lemon juice.


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