FEATURE: New cafe calls on Londoners to stop food waste

There are just weeks to go before the launch of a new cafe in Dalston which will create its dishes from surplus food donations.

Save the Date cafe will intercept and repackage food from supermarkets and food outlets that would otherwise go to over-crowded landfill sites.

The project aims to change attitudes in the UK on a larger scale through educational workshops and attracting the attention of big businesses.

We caught up with James Smart, the co-director and head chef at Save The Date, to talk about changing attitudes towards food waste and how to source your own leftovers.

save the date
Image by James Smart

Saving Food

Some 60 million tonnes of food are wasted in the UK every year.

James explained that the idea of the cafe is “to change people’s perspective on how we treat food, how we value food, and how we are wasting it.”

“There’s so much being wasted that’s good; if we did stop wasting all that food we could feed everybody in the world”.

The not-for-profit cafe will be run by volunteers and operate a strictly Pay-as-you-feel (PAYF) policy.

That means payment may be made through voluntary work at the cafe or through a donation of cash or equipment, such as a tea pot.

Food providers will include three of the UK’s largest supermarkets as well as various high-street cafe and restaurant chains.

The Real Junk Food Project

Save The Date is the latest initiative from from the anti-food waste organization, The Real Junk Food Project, whose first community cafe opened in Leeds in December 2013.

The network now spans 40 cafes across the UK, with plans to expand abroad to Uruguay, Japan, France and America.

As James pointed out, the project’s expansion shows that “more and more people are becoming aware of the issue”.

As part of the Real Junk Food Project network, Save the Date will be able to share resources and volunteers with other cafes.

The notoriety of the project has meant that Save The Date cafe has already received attention from the Green Party and Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Diane Abbott.

Image by @realjunkfoodLiv
Image by @realjunkfoodLiv

Educating the young

Save The Date plans to change people’s eating habits, starting with the youngest, through their schools programme.

James highlighted the importance of catching the problem at an early age.

“If kids learn to grow up that way and they know about ways to eat and about nutrition, hopefully by the time they’re older it will be naturally ingrained into them that you shouldn’t waste food.”

Supermarket attitudes

James believes that the key to making changes is to get big companies to take responsibility for their own food wastage.

“It should be made illegal to waste food.”

France is already in the early stages of doing just that.

A group of French MPs have drafted a law making it compulsory for supermarket chains to hand over all unsold food still fit for consumption to charity.

In May a law was passed in Belgium doing-away with ‘best before’ labels on coffee, rice, dry pasta, hard cheeses, jams and pickles to help reduce food wastage.

The highly successful ‘Inglorious Fruits and Vegetables’ initiative by French supermarket giant Intermarché, sees ugly fruit sold at a 30% discount to demonstrate to shoppers that it is still just as edible.

“People are willing to accept that food,” James pointed out, “it’s the supermarkets who think it’s cosmetically unfit”.

“The food’s sometimes even tastier and has more nutrients in it because it’s had longer to grow”.

Source: http://www.permaculturenews.org/images/Inglorious_Fruits_and_Vegetables.jpg

Social benefit

The cafe’s PAYF policy promises to help members of the community in need.

Figures suggest that suicide rates have dropped in Leeds, in the area around the Real Junk Food Project’s community cafe.

“There were people spending seven days a week without food in the apartments across the road from the cafe.”

“They are now some of our best volunteers because they’re getting fed every day. Their whole life has changed around because of it”.

James is also keen to welcome the homeless to Save the Date.

“We don’t discriminate against anyone. In my ideal world I would have homeless people in my cafe sitting next to some of the richest people in the country”.

The Real Junk Food Cafe runs a number of soup kitchens and mobile catering vans, which James plans to introduce in London.


Save the Date also aims to encourage people to actively save food at home.

At the cafe’s ‘Food Boutique’ people will be able to pick up essential items for a small donation to save money on their weekly shop.

A ‘skipper’ himself, James encourages people to source their own surplus food but warns that it should be done “with extreme caution”.

Certain areas of London are better for ‘skipping’ than others, he told me.

It’s a good idea to ask for surplus food in markets where it’s often kept in a separate food bin to be taken to landfill.

Sourcing food in skips can be risky because “you don’t know what journey it’s been on to get there,” James explained.

“It’s all about using common sense.”

Knowing how the supermarkets’ bin system works is essential to avoiding potentially contaminated food.

Food-only bins destined for landfill are the safest option.

Above all, James warned, avoid entering anywhere unless you know that you have the right to.

Staying safe whilst skipping is important not only for your own well-being but for the impact of the anti-food waste cause.

“If someone get’s really ill and breaks the law while they’re doing it, all that will do is have a massive negative consequence on the whole of the industry”.

A key rule-of-thumb when skipping is never to take more than you need, since large communities, such as squats, depend on that food for survival.

As James summed up:

“The golden rule is common sense and never take more than you need.”

Save the Date cafe will open at the Bee Garden on Abbott Street in Dalston on 28th November. For more details and to volunteer visit their Facebook page.


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