The Journey of Edinburgh Christmas Market Food Waste 2016

Yasmine’s mission statement: To make Edinburgh Christmas a zero food waste market.14233812_10209065166259944_1594748250_oAutumn, the harvest season, traditionally conjures up images of abundance and community. The irony is that this Autumn The Real Junk Food Project Edinburgh is celebrating the end of the bountiful food we reaped from the Edinburgh Christmas market back in January. With every ending there is a new beginning and plans are afoot for continuing the efforts made last year in fully materialising my mission of making Edinburgh Christmas a zero food waste market.

Before closing that door and speeding off into the future I would like to look back and appreciate all that The Real Junk Food Project Edinburgh have made happen with the food that was intercepted from the Edinburgh Christmas market stalls. This is also giving thanks to three stall holders that jumped at the chance to salvage their surplus food and who were equally committed to feeding bellies, not bins. So without having to pull out corny references to A Christmas Carol I would just like you to sit back stare at a screen and be taken on the journey of the Edinburgh Christmas market food waste 2016.

The action starts with Aileas Pringle and me trying to be granted permission by the market’s operational heads to allow us to intercept the food waste from their stallholders. The market was already in full swing, and it was difficult to pin anyone down, as they split their time between Edinburgh and London. Event management of any festival is a logistical battle field and there never seems to be a designated team dedicated to the “get out”. As a consequence, a huge amount is wasted, not only food. However, we eventually took advantage of the management being based mostly in Edinburgh and just turned up at their office. We were fortunate that Angels Market, who partly own the responsibility of the Christmas market with Underbelly, were really keen for something like this to happen and were supportive every step of the way.

We were still only able to intercept the food going to waste at the end of the Christmas market. Given Edinburgh Christmas is a six-week festival, we weren’t able to communicate and organise the day-to-day food waste that would naturally occur throughout its duration. What we did intercept was from only three stall holders, a small fraction of the huts that offer food at the market. You can see how there is an urgency to get the ball rolling now.

That being said we have had an amazing nine months, (yes that’s right, NINE MONTHS) of feeding bellies, not bins. It is not just about putting spoons into mouths, however; I can attest to how the way that food was prepared, cooked and shared has created and strengthened bonds in nurturing a food community in Edinburgh.

On  January 4th, when the stall-holders had less than 12 hours to get everything off site, the three kindly  gave up some of their time to separate their food waste for us to collect. From the first load of intercepted food, a lot of bread was donated to a student co-op where over 100 students returned from their Christmas break. 500 burgers were also shared through the Foodsharing Facebook page and were mostly given to a hostel.

The next day Donna McArdle and Jan Bee Brown went to the storage facilities of Meyer German Markets Ltd to pick up the rest of their surplus food. It must be noted that Meyers German Market Ltd normally donate their food back in Germany, so it is a strong ethic of the company to not just send the food to landfill. What was collected was 35 boxes of chocolate kisses, 4 giant boxes of peanuts, 100kg of stollen, of which a lot was taken to a local food bank and youth project that day.

January saw the Christmas market food not only feeding a significant amount of bellies, but also a focus on supporting refugee charities. On January 9th we started our journey of using up our intercepted chocolate kisses for the Power of Youth buffet lunch for their vision day. On  January 13th a donation of the Christmas Market food was given to The Real Junk Food Project- Glasgow and was mentioned in the local paper. The pay as you feel proceeds went to Positive Action in Housing which is a Glasgow-based charity addressing homelessness, housing issues and providing shelter for destitute refugees. The chocolate kisses made it to the RE-ACT Scotland jumble sale at Out of the Blue Drill Hall and were used to raise money in helping refugees in Scotland and overseas. The biggest transformation that came from the Christmas market food waste was the ability to support our New Year’s resolution to deliver a pay as you feel cafe fortnightly at the Union of Genius.

No January in Scotland is complete without a Burns Night and on the 25th of January we joined in toasting the immortal memory of the Baird. It was held at Canongate Youth Project and we had a story-teller, a piper, the New Haven Community Choir singing Burns songs and a wee jig at the end. We were able to use up the haggis from the Christmas market and make up some more scrummy veggie haggis with Colin Hind and his team from the Kilted Lobster. The penultimate meal of the month was the gathering of all the community gardeners for the Power of Food Festival meeting, where exciting plans were being cemented for the summer. Ending January was the Union of Genius gig where the money raised went to filling a van with fresh fruit and vegetables to take to refugees in Calais with Charlie Hanks.

So January was a bit of a mouthful and February was no different. On February 8th Charlie Hanks took a van filled with donations from GreenCity Wholefoods, Charles Stamper Fruit and Veg Wholesale Ltd and the stollen from the Christmas market. The following week there was some exciting interactive food art at St. Margaret’s House with the chocolate kisses and icing faces onto them. Presenting a child friendly Gormley army. Later on in the month the Thrive Archive continued their creative work with the chocolate kisses and created Kiss and Tell a day of stories, soup and song in aid of RE-Act Scotland and their work with displaced refugees. Events included a Teddy Bear’s Picnic for ages 0-6 with Lorna Shields from It’s in the Bag, plus a delicious lunch made by The Real Junk Food Project Edinburgh. The month came to a close with one of my favourite of our collaborations, The World is my Country. The event was run by Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and we fed more than 50 for its launch. There were amazing pacifist stories from around the world during WW1 that accompanied the exhibition. Leftovers went to a hostel and I purchased a print of one of the posters from the exhibition as I loved the story.

You’re probably feeling a bit peckish reading through this so to make you even more hungry here is the Union of Genius menu from the 13th March:

Lentil, beetroot, tomato soup,  Potato and kale soup, Sweet and sour bratwurst, Veg curry, Potato and golden beetroot cakes, Pomegranate salad, Plum and apple crumble, Cherry/mixed berry flan, and other sweet stuff.


On the 19th of March there were two pop ups in one day. One to cater for the Himalayan Highland Games at Leith Links for the Himalayan Centre for Arts and Culture. Then there was also a Multi-Cultural eco celebration. It was this day that we finally used up the last of the stollen and chocolate kisses from the Christmas market.

From April through to May the bratwurst sausage casserole, seen above in the menu, became a staple for the Union of Genius fortnightly gigs. The assortment of sweets and chocolates were given new life into tiffin and rocky roads as well. It was during one of our weekly events during the Fringe Festival at Ostara Cafe in Leith when the last of the Alpine French sausages were used up. The start of September saw the first use of the peanuts in a tongue-tingling curry for members of the 2050 Climate Group’s Young Leaders Development Programme. The rest of the curry was used the next day to feed the volunteers from RE-ACT Scotland for their weekly Sunday sorting for refugees in Calais.

Now I started by saying we were celebrating the end of the Christmas market interceptions… Well we still have peanuts. Plenty of peanuts. If anyone knows of any interesting recipes from near or far that we can use with the peanuts, please share – or even better, come show us! We have our first fortnightly Union of Genius on the 25th of September. The food waste from just the three stalls has fed so many different types of people and for so many different reasons of bringing people together.  

I have personally grown so much in my understanding of what already exists in securing food security for people in Edinburgh and the reasons why we live amongst so much wasted food. I came from a place of being startled by wastefulness, by the simple disrespect towards everything and everyone involved in production. What I truly find rewarding with The Real Junk Food project Edinburgh is the collaboration on so many events and bridging the gaps between different areas and groups in the city. With each meal so much more life is born than the lazy option of wasting the food. What is apparent with all the people I’ve met along the way is that we all might be coming from a different angle, but we all fundamentally want to achieve similar values. We want balance, we want people to feel dignified and we want to instil a community ethos. I feel empowered with what was achieved this year. I want to take this journey forward and try to ensure I can make my mission even more closer to a reality: making Edinburgh Christmas a zero food waste market.