It is without a doubt that the coronavirus emergency has had a profound effect on our day-to-day lives. But, for The Real Junk Food Project Brighton it was not going to get in the way of their invaluable mission: to intercept food destined for landfill and use it to feed people who need it, on a pay-as-you-feel basis. 

While this project was initially impacted by the government’s lockdown regulations, they decided immediately that they would find strategies to adapt in order to keep their movement alive. They have since been recognised by the Brighton and Hove City Council as a project taking part in emergency food distribution in the city. 

“For us it’s about feeding the hungry, it’s a privilege”, the projects chief food interceptor, Sarah Betts, told me when I visited the project recently. 

The Real Junk Food Project has café locations across the city where they are offering a takeaway service, offering healthy homemade meals which quite frankly look, and sound, delicious. Not only will you be satisfied by a hearty plate of wholesome food at an affordable price of your choice, you will feel satisfied knowing that you too have contributed to the reduction of food waste; a troubling yet positively preventable global crisis. 

According to WRAP UK, an estimated 9.5million tonnes of food was wasted in the UK in 2018. A truly excessive amount given that around 8million people in the UK struggle to afford to eat and approximately 250,000 tonnes of wasted food is still edible. Hence, not only does the Real Junk Food Project Brighton endeavour to reduce the food waste crisis it simultaneously tackles poverty and malnourishment- a socio-economic issue consistently underestimated and neglected by our government and its institutions. 

The project also runs ‘The Hub’, a surplus food store located in the heart of Bevendean, where intercepted food, wasted because its either past is best before date, its packaging is damaged or because a pallet has been damaged in the warehouse, can be purchased on a ‘pay-as-you-feel’ basis. Since the lockdown began in March The Hub has been offering, on average, 40 food parcels a day to a broad range of customers. 

The Hub has been paramount for many people during the lockdown because of the incessant instability it has caused, including for those from working households and for those potentially less accustomed to the struggle to afford basic food stuffs. It has been especially important for children from lower income families who are no longer receiving free lunches at school and are consequently hungry. 

Boris Johnson has caused new angers recently after falsely claiming that child poverty had fallen despite a report from his own government, concluding that there are 600,000 more children living in relative poverty since the tory government came into power in 2010. It is reassuring to know that The Real Junk Food Project exists, in part, to actively address the troubling levels of child poverty and malnourishment in the UK. 

The Real Junk Food Brighton’s Volunteer Coordinator, Paul Loman, explained to me that the amounts of food intercepted during since the pandemic has doubled and has been coming from unexpected sources. After visiting The Hub myself I was shocked at the sight of crates-upon-crates of edible ‘surplus’ food which quite literally could have fed a whole village, two or threes times over! It was, however, heart-warming to know that this food will be diligently treated with care by volunteers at the project and used to feed those who need it. 

Integral to this project is the sense of community. And, if any semblance of good has come out of the coronavirus pandemic it is increased community spirit, a social phenomenon somewhat lost over the years we have been conditioned to live through our phones and the internet. At least that is my opinion! This particularly resonated when Sarah told me that during the pandemic people have been paying for other peoples shopping in the queue and helping others with heavy bags. 

“Everyone has been chipping in”, Sarah said to me rather proudly as she described the ethos permeating the project during the pandemic. 

As students, especially in Brighton where everything is notoriously expensive, we are often strapped for cash. The innovative ‘pay-as-you-feel’ concept at the core of The Real Junk Food Project means that you can fill your cupboards and fridges for a price you can afford, whether that is 29p or £30, without feeling degraded and shamed by your financial circumstances. Even if you can afford it, that is not to say you are not also very welcome to get a cheap meal without feeling pressured into more and more donations. Ultimately, this project is open to people from all walks of life. 

So, if you haven’t already, check out The Real Junk Food Project Brighton’s website or their social media accounts to learn more about what the project offers. Like what you see? Then head down to one of their welcoming locations for some cheap grub and to support a cause that is helping thousands of people across the country, and the world, to put food on their plates. 

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