Stop Food Waste – Cook It and Eat It

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Customers enjoy a ‘Pay As You Feel Lunch’ at The Armley Junk-Tion, Armley, Leeds, where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

By Silvia Boarini
LEEDS, England, Aug 31 2015 (IPS)

A new grassroots initiative born in the northern England city of Leeds has set itself the ambitious goal of ending food waste, once and for all.

Founded in December 2013, ‘The Real Junk Food Project’ (TRJFP), is the brainchild of chef Adam Smith.

It consists of a network of ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafés where food destined to waste and intercepted by volunteers is cooked into perfectly edible and nutritious meals that people can enjoy and give back what they can and wish, be it money, time or surplus food.

TRJFP is run on a volunteer basis through customers’, crowdfunding and private donations and with only a handful of paid positions at living wage level.

Sitting at a table in the first café opened by TRJFP, The Armley Junk-Tion in the struggling suburb of Armley, Leeds, 29-year-old Smith is still infectiously enthusiastic about it all.

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

Adam Smith, a chef from Leeds, northern England, who founded The Real Junk Food Project in December 2013. Credit: Silvia Boarini/IPS

“It’s the right thing to do and it’s something that has a positive impact,” he told IPS. “We believe that we can empower people and communities and inspire change across the whole system through the organic growth of these cafés.”

In under two years, TRJFP has grown into a worldwide network of 110 cafés: 14 in Leeds, one of which in a primary school, 40 across the United Kingdom and the rest in countries as diverse as Germany, Australia, South Africa or France.

“So far,” explained Smith, “the Armley Junk-Tion alone has cooked 12,000 meals for 10,000 people using food that would otherwise have gone to landfill.” As a network, in 18 months it has fed 90,000 people 60,000 meals and saved 107,000 tonnes of food from needless destruction.

TRJFP volunteers are out every day and at all hours intercepting food from households, food businesses, allotments, food banks, wholesalers, supermarkets and supermarket bins.“The [U.K.] government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people. We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money“ – Adam Smith, founder of ‘The Real Junk Food Project’

TRJFP has also been able to secure surplus chicken from the Nando’s restaurant chain and part of the food ”waste” generated by local Morrisons supermarket branches.

“We ignore expiry dates or damage and use our own judgment on whether we think the food is fit or safe for human consumption,” said Smith.

The number of tonnes of food intercepted, though, pales in comparison with the amount of food that is still wasted each year. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates food wastage globally at one-third of all food produced – that is 1.3 billion tonnes each year. This means that one in four calories produced is never consumed. On the other hand, FAO also reports that 795 million people worldwide are chronically undernourished.

‘Food waste’ is often described as a “scandal” and yet top-down actions seeking to put an end to it still treat the above statistics as two separate problems requiring two separate solutions – recycle more in rich countries and produce more food in and for developing countries – that effectively leave a faulty system intact and the interests of a multi-billion dollar industry unchallenged.

According to Tristram Stuart, campaigner and author of ‘Waste – Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’, “all the world’s nearly one billion hungry people could be lifted out of malnourishment on less than a quarter of the food that is wasted in the United States, United Kingdom and Europe.”  

But our short-sightedness and unwillingness to change our habits are laid bare in laws such as the one approved last May by the French parliament. In France, large supermarkets will be forbidden from throwing away unsold food and forced to give it to charity or farmers.

Although hailed as a breakthrough in the fight against food waste, critics such as food waste activists ‘Les Gars’pilleurs’ say that such laws only circle around the problem, offering a quick fix. For starters, supermarkets are hardly the only culprits. For example, as the U.K. charity Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP) reports, they produce less than two percent of U.K. food waste, while private households are responsible for roughly 47 percent of it and producers 27 percent.

“The government is spending million and millions of pounds on campaigns to stop people from wasting food but all we are doing is just feeding it to people,” Smith cut short. “We say, ‘if you know it’s safe to eat, why don’t you eat it?’ That’s all it takes, it didn’t cost us any money.“

As a grassroots and independent initiative, TRJFP does not categorise food waste as an environmental, economic or social malaise. It tackles it holistically and works to educate the public but also lobbies ministers and parliamentarians to develop relevant policies.

“We have been to Westminster (seat of the U.K. parliament) a few times already to talk about this problem. There are many interests at stake but we will keep working until there is no more waste,” Smith said, adding that he hopes to prepare a waste-food lunch for members of parliament.

In Armley, the café fills up for lunch. On the menu are delicacies such as meat stew, steak and lentil soup. The clientele represents a cross-section of society that normally travels on parallel paths. Hipsters, homeless, professionals or unemployed all eat the same food, sit at the same tables and enjoy the same service. No referrals needed, no stigma attached, as often happens with other such services.

Richard, a recovering alcoholic, has been having lunch at The Armley Junk-Tion for a few months. “The café has been a real focus point for the community to come and eat together irrespective of background,” he told IPS. “It doesn’t matter what you want to eat. There’s always something on the menu for everybody.”

For 36-year-old Paul, with a history of mental illness, TRJFP offers an important safety net not guaranteed by social services. “Where I stay, my cooking facilities are restricted to a microwave. Due to cut backs and lack of support services, the only help I get is coming to places like this,” he told IPS.

Nigel Stone, one of the café’s volunteer co-directors, had no doubt the idea would catch on. “It is such an unbelievably common sense solution and the best part of it is how it brings the community together, especially in times of need.”

Slowly but steadily, TRJFP is changing norms around food waste and hopes to make it socially unacceptable for anyone to waste food. First off, though, they are proving that we must stop calling it waste, it just isn’t, it’s perfectly good food that every day we decide to throw away.

Edited by Phil Harris   

Will New Sri Lankan Government Prioritize Resettlement of War-Displaced?

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka's war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

Despite six years of peace, life is still hard in areas where Sri Lanka’s war was at its worst, especially for internally displaced people (IDPs). Credit: Amantha Perera/IPS

By Amantha Perera
JAFFNA, Sri Lanka, Aug 30 2015 (IPS)

The new Sri Lankan government that was voted in on Aug. 17 certainly didn’t inherit as much baggage as its predecessors did during the nearly 30 years of conflict that gripped this South Asian island nation.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider. I am getting old […]. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.” — Siva Ariyarathnam, an IDP in northern Sri Lanka
But six years into ‘peacetime’, the second parliament of President Maithripala Sirisena will need to prioritize some of the most painful, unhealed wounds of war – among them, the fate of over 50,000 internally displaced people (IDPs), some of whom have not been home in over two decades.

Though the fighting between government forces and the separatist Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) ended in 2009, closing a 28-year-long chapter of violence, Siva Ariyarathnam is still waiting for a government official to tell him when he can go home.

Like tens of thousands of others, Ariyarathnam fled with his family when the military took over his land in the country’s Northern Province in the 1990s as part of a strategy to defeat the LTTE, who launched an armed campaign for an independent homeland for the country’s minority Tamil population in 1983.

The outgoing government says it plans to give the land back to 50,000 people, but has not indicated when that will happen, and Ariyarathnam says he is running out of time.

“Do you know how it feels to live in other people’s houses for so long? You are always an outsider,” Ariyarathnam told IPS. “I am getting old and I want to live under my own roof with my family. I want to die in my own house, not somewhere else.”

A decades-old problem

Ariyarathnam’s tale is heard too frequently in the former war-zone, a large swath of land in the country’s north comprising the Vanni region, the Jaffna Peninsula and parts of the Eastern Province, which the LTTE ran as a de facto state after riots in 1983 drove thousands of Tamils out of the Sinhala-majority south.

During the war years, displacement was the order of the day, with both the LTTE and the Sri Lankan government forcing massive population shifts that would shape ethnic- and communal-based electoral politics.

For ordinary people it meant that the notion of ‘home’ was a luxury that few could maintain.

The cost of the conflict that finally ended in May 2009 with the defeat of the Tigers by government armed forces was enormous.

By conservative accounts over 100,000 perished in the fighting, while a report by the United Nations estimates that as many as 40,000 civilians died during the last bouts of fighting between 2008 and 2009.

According to the Ministry of Resettlement, Sri Lanka’s post-war IDP returnees stood at an impressive 796,081 by the end of June.

But the same data also reveal that an additional 50,000 were still living with host families and in the Thellippali IDP Centre, unable to return to villages still under military occupation.

These militarized zones date back to the 1990s, when the army began appropriating civilian land as a means of thwarting the steadily advancing LTTE.

By 2009, the military had confiscated 11,629 acres of land in the Tamil heartland of Jaffna – located on the northern tip of the island, over 300 km from the capital, Colombo – in order to create the Palaly High Security Zone (HSZ).

This was the area Ariyarathnam and his family, like thousands of others, had once called home.

New government, new policies?

Many hoped that the war’s end would see a return to their ancestral lands, but the war-victorious government, helmed by former President Mahinda Rajapaksa, was slow to release civilian areas, prioritizing national security and continued deployment of troops in the North over resettlement of the displaced.

A new government led by President Maithripala Sirisena, Rajapaksa’s former health minister who took power in a surprise January election, promised to accelerate land release, and turned over a 1,000-acre area from the Palaly HSZ in April.

But top officials tell IPS that genuine government efforts are stymied by the lack of public land onto which to move military camps in order to make way for returning civilians.

“The return of the IDPs is our number one priority,” Ranjini Nadarajapillai, the outgoing secretary to the Ministry of Resettlement, explained to IPS. “There is no timetable right now, everything depends on how the remaining high security zones are removed.”

The slow pace of land reform has kept IDPs mired in poverty, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), an arm of the Oslo-based Norwegian Refugee Council.

“The main reasons why there are higher poverty levels among IDPs include the lack of access to land during displacement to carry out livelihood activities, [and] the lack of compensation for lost or destroyed land and property during the war, which was acquired by the military or government as security or economic zones,” Marita Swain, an analyst with IDMC, told IPS.

An IDMC report released in July put the number of IDPs at 73,700, far higher than the government statistic. Most of them are living with host families, while 4,700 are housed in a long-term welfare center in Jaffna, the capital of Sri Lanka’s Northern Province.

The lingering effects of the policies of the previous administration led by Rajapaksa, which prioritized infrastructure development over genuine economic growth for the war-weary population, has compounded the IDPs’ plight, according to the IDMC.

Despite the Sirisena government taking office in January, it has been hamstrung over issues like resettlement for the past eight months as it prepared to face parliamentary elections that pitted Rajapaksa-era policies against those of the new president.

Nadarajapillai of the Ministry of Resettlement said the new government is taking a different approach and reaching out to international agencies and donors to resolve the issue.

The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping the government devise a plan to resolve the IDP crisis, added Dushanthi Fernando, a UNHCR official in Colombo.

Still, these promises mean little to people like Ariyarathnam, whose displacement is now entering its third decade with no firm signs of ending anytime soon.

Edited by Kanya D’Almeida