Who makes TRJFP? #2: The Edinburgh Larder

Since we first held an event at the Edinburgh Larder Café in July 2015, it has become a frequent and friendly venue for our communal dinners. Its founder Eleanor Cunningham has gone on to set up a sister social enterprise, Edinburgh Food Social, teaching school children and adults about cooking with Scottish ingredients, in Gracemount, where TRJFP Edinburgh began. For the second in a series of interviews with the people who make TRJFP Edinburgh happen, I spoke to Eleanor after the first Edinburgh Food Social indoor market at the Biscuit Factory in December to find out what the thinking behind it all is.

Read the full interview, and the rest of the series, here


The Edinburgh Food Social market at the Biscuit Factory

Why did you start the Edinburgh Larder?

I set up the Larder to talk about Scottish produce and to do that right in city centre. The only people doing that seven years ago were Michelin starred restaurants, only affordable to a certain demographic. I wanted to make it affordable, and in a cafe environment, even if it was as a treat.

The social enterprise was just an extension of that, to make that food accessible to everybody. The aim, hopefully, is to say that everyone who lives in Scotland should be able to afford that kind of food (if that’s what they want to buy) and that they should have the skills to cook with it (if that’s what they want to do). So many people came to us saying “I don’t know how to cook from scratch, I feel like I’ve completely lost my confidence in the kitchen.”

With Food for Thought, we brought primary kids into the bistro and it hit home how important it is to be working with the kids. A lot of them said they hadn’t cooked at home for six months to a year. More and more schools are asking us to come and work with them and we’re having to work out how to finance that because schools don’t really have a budget for it.

And what response did you get?

They really enjoyed it, and got on board with it. A lot of them came alive. It made me think about how much of a lack of that kind of stuff there is in schools.

Why were they not cooking at home?

We didn’t ask specifically. I went to uni and I’d been forced to cook at home. Everyone at uni just made baked potatoes and ready meals. And that was 20 years ago, so how many generations of that skill have we lost? It’s a big, big problem. Cooking is a life skill, and people are moving into university and away from home without it.

I don’t think food should be brought into other subjects, I think other subjects should be brought into food. As a practical application of maths, but also history, geography… I think that’s why so many have lost the importance of food in our culture and society, they’ve forgotten how it links to our history.

At the Larder education was always a huge thing. It’s a way that so many people aren’t used to cooking anymore. A lot of people wouldn’t know where to start with putting together a soup from scratch. There’s no cookery classes like that. You have to stand back from something and think: “how am I going to make this easy for other people to understand?” And it’s not teaching everything, just some basic things like how to make a stock, how to combine flavours in a salad.

But once you include ideas about seasonality, organic, local… It’s quite complex.

I try to steer away from the complicated. It’s not about trying to encompass everything. If you talk to people about what’s in season, how exciting those ingredients are and how amazing they taste, hopefully the more they try of those kind of things the more they’ll want to buy them and think about them.

But kids don’t have buying power…

They do! If you walk into the shop and your kid has seen some advert for a big chocolate company that’s what they’ll want. But if they’ve been in a class and looked at a seasonal ingredient, that might be something they’ll ask for instead… That’s the idea, they’ll go home to their parents and start saying “can we have more of that?” And they have done that at Gracemount.

How do the parents respond?

Difficult to say. You don’t know what the home environment is. That’s why we wanted to offer the affordable cooking classes for adults as well. We’re doing that up at Gracemount. We’re offering two community lunches on Wednesday and Thursday.

We’ve got Climate Challenge Funding (CCF) but it will be difficult up there to create a sustainable model. Unless we get a big amount of funding to create something like a community cafe and food hub.

We’re working with Sodexo as well. There’s only so much of a scale you can do things on as a small business and if we really are trying to change the way things are done within the education system we need to involve large scale people with the logistical capacity to tackle those challenges. Sodexo are one of those. If we can work together to make that done in a good way, then…

Do you think that’s possible?

I hope so. I draw the line at supermarkets; they are causing a big problem within our food system and that needs to be tackled. But Sodexo said we’ll give you £2k towards the food truck because we think you’re doing great things. There’s a lot we’re learning from each other, I’ve had to kind of put my prejudices aside and think maybe we need to understand how things can be done better on that scale. Their ultimate aim is profit but it has to be with social enterprises as well – if you’re a loss-making enterprise, you’re going to close. People are needing to become a bit more creative.

How are you managing that?

The market has been a massive part of that. Because we’ve got an office here at The Biscuit Factory they’ve given us the space downstairs for free to do the indoor market once a month. We made quite a decent amount of profit on the first one. It’s an incredible venue. They’ve wanted to do a market for a while so it’s quite a coincidence.

What’s the aim of the market?

To make good food more accessible, even over the winter months, by offering reasonably priced stalls – £30 a day, which is a lot less than the other markets. I quite often visit Belfast market; it has this incredible vibe about it, everybody in the whole city goes there to shop.

I wanted to see something [in Edinburgh] that was a bit more inclusive and accessible and easy for the stallholders, and also to think about visiting places like the food banks and potentially offering people a different payment method on the door. It is a £2 suggested donation. It’d be nice to work out how to make it more accessible, maybe a tokens system where you can get tokens on the door and use them to get 10% more for your money at the stalls. We could give out some of those tokens for free by working with the food banks and so on.

It’s quite ambitious…

It is… That’s why I wanted to start out on a basis of do one and see how it goes. We’re setting up a training kitchen over the road as well – that was one of the points of having this space. If there are people that come who say well that’s great you’re saying we have access to fresh produce but we don’t know how to cook with it, we can then offer training over the road. Hopefully the future of that is we’ll charge £50 or 70 a day for people to come along and learn how to cook if they can afford that and then offer one or two places for free. We’ve got a little bit of funding, from Baillie Gifford.

Why do you see funding from supermarkets as a red line?

They are feeding into all the problems that we have in the food system. But it’s the only option a lot of people have. Everything – everything – about food has become about convenience. I don’t only think it’s about that; generally as a society we don’t respect our health and we see it as quite funny a lot of the time. We like to be self-deprecating. So that’s how a lot of people view health – or don’t view it. The less income you have the higher percentage of your salary is spent on food and then it is really difficult to make a decision based on anything except cost so we need to offer people alternatives. The government needs to get better by subsidising things and understanding how many of our health issues are contributed to by poor diet, and how much money the NHS would be saved.

There are no alternatives at the moment. If you don’t have much money, there’s no alternative. These food hubs people talk about are quite often not used that much. There needs to be more pressure put on supermarkets to do things in a different way – to stop allowing people to pay to have an end-aisle product at the height of a child’s eyes!

Only governments can force that by changing policy, and that is being discussed by the Food Commission at the moment. But it’s difficult. That was my hope, on a small scale, to provide an alternative.

Could it happen on a larger scale?

It needs to be more. You never really know the situation people are living in. There’s huge levels of thinking that needs to go into speaking with people in different situations. We need to adapt what we’re doing to talk to people about what they can cook when, for example, they might not have access to fridges and freezers. There’s loads of people coming to us saying they want to do something like that, they’ve just not found a channel to do it, so they’re working with us. There’s no end to what I think people could be doing because there’s situations all over the place where people need more help. The more people that are doing this kind of thing the better really. There’s loads of social enterprises that are setting up which is amazing. I think it’s really needed.

Interview by Charlie Hanks

On the 12th day of Christmas…

Observant regulars in our Sunday cafe at the Union of Genius may begin to notice a pattern: bangers and mash last week, sausage casserole the week before. Toad-in-the-hole and stovies next week, bound to be.

After relieving a number of stallholders of their surplus at the end of last year’s Christmas market, we determined this time to do a full sweep. TRJFP teamed up with Food Sharing Edinburgh to approach market organisers and vendors, and draw up a list of possible distribution points for what we collected, knowing it would likely be more than we could easily put to use.

Logistically prepared though we were, the volume of this interception was surprising. Our established dealings with small local businesses, whose two boxes of veg or crate of bread or catering tin of tomatoes will feed our weekly lunchers, had left me with only an abstract awareness of the brutal levels of wastage elsewhere. Our trend-setting colleagues in Leeds fill a Pay As You Feel supermarket warehouse with food deemed worthless every day.

Here, on the twelfth day of Christmas, our stallholders gave to us:

  • 48kg flour, 160l vegetable oil, 30kg bread, 280kg potatoes, 62kg eggs, 216l UHT milk, 30kg tomato/garlic sauce, 11kg fruit & salad, 3000 chocolate kisses and close to half a ton of sausages.

It had been a quiet week but veterans of the festive market surely know how empty the place is in the new year. This was not an unfortunate miscalculation; this was a visceral indictment of the commodification of food. Initially, we were thrilled by the vendors’ cooperation and the possibility of feeding so many people. When the adrenaline wore off, I became merely angry at the  situation. The blame must not lay purely – if at all – with the stallholders. To run a stall here, they are obliged by the market’s organisers to be there throughout, until January 7th. It is about maintaining a facade, an aesthetic of festive plenitude until long after everyone has lost interest. The profit-oriented food system encases itself in this veneer of loveliness of which the consumer is encouraged to be ignorant, or feels himself powerless to break through. Beneath the surface is a whirl of reckless wastage and vicious cost-cutting and – bah, humbug – the Christmas market is an emphatic, relatively tiny, example.

Unbreakable profiteering is among the reasons we avoid working with supermarkets, so it is particularly depressing to see small businesses succumbing to similar mindsets. Buying twice as many low-welfare eggs as they need, rather than just enough better quality ones hardly seems to make sense even economically.


At midnight, as we returned to the Mound a final time at the call of one vendor who had found another ‘three or four crates’ of 100 sausages (twelve crates, it turned out, plus 110kg sliced potatoes), I wondered if our approach would only serve to validate and perpetuate this absurd wastage; if the food is feeding hungry people, no need to worry about it. Aside from the unsustainable reliance on volunteer hours it presupposes, which remains an underestimated flaw of food redistribution, this leads dangerously close to the idea that surplus – and feeding it to those unable to afford to pay for it when they want it – is a good thing.

As a final irony, the organisers across the road at Edinburgh’s Christmas had partnered with the Trussell Trust for a feelgood post-Christmas promotion: donate non-perishable food items to the food bank, or unwanted gifts to Waverley Care, and get half-price tickets for the rides so you can throw up that giant waffle you just overpaid for.

The system is sick. It is not anyone’s fault. But its recovery is everyone’s responsibility. Rather than giving your Christmas pudding to someone you’ll never meet who happens not to have any, the best thing you can do for that person is ask more questions of the system which encourages such anonymity.

Our first question: who’s for a sausage butty?

Banana roots

Cathy Smith is a volunteer with TRJFP and is working for a PhD at the University of Edinburgh. Her research in Belize took her to a banana plantation and here she reflects on what she learned, ahead of our Gone Bananas! dinner next week.

With the biggest per capita and gross market for the fruit within Europe, bananas are somewhat of a staple food in the UK (1). Yet they can by no means be grown locally. How is it that a fruit confined to growing in the lowland humid tropics has become 30% cheaper than a locally grown apple (2)? And, more crucially, where are the costs being borne?

Bananas are a staple food crop across the tropics – only 15 % of bananas grown globally are exported for international trade – but of these, 81% are produced in Latin America and the Caribbean. That the economies of these countries can be heavily dependent upon the banana industry has given, and continues to give, those controlling the industry the power to control governments. For example, when, in the 1950s, the Guatemalan government attempted to redistribute land to take it out of the hands of a few corporations, the US Government, under pressure from United Fruit (the primary US-owned banana company) overthrew the Guatemalan government and helped to install a dictatorship, leading to civil war in the following decades.

My PhD research is based in neighbouring Belize, and in the area where I work, the majority of wage labour is to be found on banana plantations. Bananas have been grown there since the late 1800s, initially for export to the US by United Fruit. The industry was wiped out by disease in the 1920s and 30s, but was rejuvenated with state support in the 1970s. Today there are over 20 privately owned plantations, all selling to Fyffes (a subsidiary of United Fruit until 1989), solely for the UK retail market. Belize grows 6% of our bananas (1). I wanted to understand how this industry structures the lives of the people I was meeting in Belize, so, having met the manager of one of the banana plantations, I arranged to spend a day joining the workers there. I will describe the processes and conditions I saw on the farm, before attempting to illuminate the bigger picture within which this sits.

Bananas are grown from clonal rhizomes, which take 18-22 weeks to produce their first flowering shoots. The plants are carefully tended by the men on the plantation (no women work here), who heavily prune the plants, cover the fruits with a protective bags, and apply herbicides and pesticides, of which the banana industry uses more than any other in the world, except cotton.  Some of these chemicals are sprayed from an aircraft, including over the housing of workers living close to the plantations. They also enter river systems which empty out into Belize’s barrier reef, the second largest in the world.

On shipping days (approx. three per week) the bananas in some areas of the plantation are cut. The bunches are hung from a pulley system and one man pulls 25 bunches all the way to the packing shed, which could be over an hour’s walk. The part-time packing shed staff are mostly women and children. At the packing shed the bunches are divided into whatever multiples are currently being packed (sixes, fives etc.) with any excess bananas, or bananas with the slightest damage or scarring, wasted. I spent a few hours with the women doing the cutting (at an incredible rate) and massacred quite a few bananas in the process. The bunches are then floated in a chemical soup for a while, sprayed with more chemicals, and packed either directly into boxes, or first bagged and then boxed. I tried my hand at the bagging for a few hours as well, and reached slightly higher levels of proficiency there!

The boxes are then stacked onto pallets and filled into a truck, which makes it to the port for shipping the same day. It will then take 1-2 weeks for bananas to reach Europe from their countries of origin, during which time humidity, ventilation and temperature conditions are carefully monitored. On arrival the bananas are ripened using ethylene gas before retail.

From my day on the farm I can certainly say that it is hard and mind-numbingly repetitive work. A bus collects the workers at 5:30am (and many of their wives will have to get up before that to cook for them). There are two breaks in the day, one for 15 minutes at 8am and one for 40 minutes or so at lunch. The bus returns the workers at around 4pm (or whenever the work is done). Workers are paid 20-30 Belize dollars a day (which translates to £7-10) – a pittance, especially considering the large size of households.

It is legal to work from the age of 12 in Belize, and its banana industry is listed in a 2014 report from the US Bureau of International Labour Affairs (3) as having a high incidence of child labour (‘Child labour’, under international standards, is work by anyone under the age of 15). The girl next to me bagging bananas was 14, and working to pay her high school fees.

The majority of employees on the banana farms are immigrants, who, without Belizean citizenship, can only obtain, and indeed afford, work permits for plantation labour. Some do not have official work permits. Many moved to Belize following civil war and landlessness in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador (4). Because of their status as immigrants the state has little incentive to care for their rights, and risk of deportation combined with conflict between people of such different origins, makes most unwilling to cooperatively challenge the conditions they work in.

In Belize all farms are privately owned and managed, Fyffes simply buys and exports the fruit (this is not the case everywhere; there are plantations, particularly in Latin America that are owned directly by fruit companies, although this is becoming less common). This means that Fyffes assumes none of the costs or risks of production. If, as occurred in the area in November 2015, flooding devastates the crop, it is the growers, and laid-off workers that pay the cost.

With its monopoly over the market, Fyffes can set prices and quotas at a whim. Strict quality control measures result in large amounts of wasted fruit, and provide a means of disciplining the private suppliers (4). It amazed me how many bananas are wasted in the packing shed because of the numbers required in bunches or because of minute imperfections (10% according to the farm owner, and that followed later by a further 40% in retail once in the UK). Fyffes sends a representative daily to quality check a certain number of boxes, which I was allowed to watch. A box doesn’t pass the inspection if more than three bananas are damaged, and if two boxes from the same pallet fail the test, all 54 boxes are checked. The packers have an individual number, so the damage can be traced back to the responsible worker. The plantation workers are also disciplined using these quality control measures as the bananas are also checked for bruising before entering the packing shed. The farm is divided into blocks, with dedicated teams, whose pay is determined by the quality of the fruit they bring to the shed. Despite these on farm checks, it is the ‘quality’ of the fruit on arrival in the UK that determines the prices growers receive.


From this local example, let’s turn to the global picture. What is it that determines the patterns of international trade? And where do we come in: what role do the retailer and customer play? Colonial histories often influence trade agreements and export routes. Generally, the Caribbean and certain Central American countries (such as Belize), as former colonies, export solely or preferentially to Europe, and other Central American and more southerly Latin American countries to North America. However, these patterns are shifting. In the 1990s and 2000s a fierce battle was fought between the US with the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and the EU, over the EU’s trade preferences, ending in the Geneva Agreement on banana trade in 2010. In this agreement the US and WTO succeeded in pressing for a series of tariff reductions and measures to move towards free trade between the EU and certain Central and Latin American countries. As a result, small Caribbean Islands such as St. Lucia, Dominica and Jamaica are finding themselves unable to compete (2, 5).

There is a gross inequality in the value captured at different parts of the banana value chain (see the diagram below). It is the retailer that captures the greatest slice, and this is growing. In the 1980s, just five companies (Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Noboa and Fyffes) traded 80% of the world’s bananas. However, a move by these companies away from directly owning plantations and ships has opened a gap for supermarkets to buy directly from producers. Those same 5 fruit companies now control only 39% of the banana trade in Europe (2)

Within Europe, consumer prices have remained essentially constant since 2001, except in the UK, where a banana price war between retailers has reduced these by an incredible 50% (1). Shockingly, wholesale prices have decreased by almost 25% since 2001. This means that retailers have increased the fraction of the price that they capture, whilst value in producer countries has fallen by 20% to 50%. At the same time, production costs have increased: fertilisers and pesticides have risen in price by up to 130%. Most critically, living costs in producer countries have risen: in the Dominican Republic, for example, by 278% (2). These trends make it more and more difficult for smallholder producers to compete with large commercial plantations.

Competition law at both UK and European levels strictly prohibits any form of concerted action by businesses that may affect trade, and specifically any agreements to fix prices. As a result, even if they wanted to, retailers are not likely to set a fixed fair price. Where then might intervention points lie in this chain? Workers’ unions in producer countries might have the power to challenge their working conditions, but in many cases this is made very difficult by governments, or, as in the case of Belize, is impeded by the immigrant status of workers. Governments in producer countries could set fair living wage standards, and support trade unions. Regulation could also be imposed by buyer country governments, in a similar way to how the Scottish Government recently imposed a minimum trading price for alcohol, despite competition law.

Consumers also have a role to play. The UK has had Fairtrade bananas since 2000, and these now represent 1/3 of the market – in large part as a result of consumer pressure (2). With changing global trade agreements, for some of the small Caribbean Islands, such as the Windward Islands, where 85% of bananas grown are now Fairtrade certified, this is the only thing enabling the industry to survive (5). It is our responsibility as informed consumers, to attempt to fight the system into which we are locked, putting pressure on governments and retailers.

A final sobering thought. In the first half of the 20th Century the global banana industry fell at the feet of Panama Disease. It was revived in the 1960s with the replacement of the ‘Gros Michel’ banana with the new resistant ‘Cavendish’, which is more or less the only clone grown for export. However, a new strain of Panama Disease is now threatening the Cavendish in Asia and Africa, and, if it reaches the Americas, it could spell the end for the banana industry (6,7).

(1) Fairtrade foundation (2014), Britain’s bruising banana wars: Why cheap bananas threaten farmers’ futures. A Policy Report


(2) Make Fruit Fair campaign (2015), Banana value chains in Europe and the consequences of Unfair Trading Practices


(3) Bureau of International Labour Affairs, United States Department of Labour (2014), List of goods produced by child labour or forced labour


(4) Moberg, M. (1997), Myths of ethnicity and nation: immigration, work, and identity in the Belize banana industry. Univ. of Tennessee Press, (1997)

(5) European Parliament, directorate general for external policies (2010). A snapshot of the banana trade. Who gets what? (2010)


(6) Ordonez, N, et al. “Worse Comes to Worst: Bananas and Panama Disease—When Plant and Pathogen Clones Meet.” PLoS pathogens 11 (2015).


(7) https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/oct/25/banana-farming-danger-cavendish-crop-genetics   

Who makes TRJFP? #1: Ostara Cafe

First welcoming us in August 2016, Ostara Cafe has become a frequent venue for TRJFP’s communal dinners and one of our warmest and most enthusiastic supporters. It seemed fitting to chat with David, who runs the cafe with his partner Carey, for the first of a series of features on the people that make TRJFP Edinburgh happen. 

You can read the full interview here.


Why did you open Ostara?

I spent 16 years working around food but not really thinking about it too much. I managed bars and restaurants and travelled all around the world to do it. In Melbourne, people were happy about working in a restaurant or a bar. There was an appreciation of the craft of service. That respect doesn’t exist here, I don’t think it ever has.

I wanted to do something different but it still had to be food. I came back and studied for the MSc in Gastronomy at Queen Margaret University. We saw a lot of things and heard a lot of things on the course that you can’t unsee. The reason we opened a cafe was because of our experience in hospitality but opening this kind of cafe was because of what I learned in that year. When you know the politics of free range you can’t put free range on the menu and celebrate that – ‘free range’, all 30,000 of them in a cage.

People can leave with a little more understanding – and maybe they’ll pass those stories on to somebody else. It wasn’t some grand plan, we’re still developing it and we will be for a while still. Carey cares about the same things I do. We wanted to be a community cafe – we’ve had a school photography group in, we’re working with you guys at TRJFP.

What led you to work with us?

We’re working in such a way that there is very little waste, we’re very conscious of that. It’s ingrained in us to waste, we’ve always done it. Since always. In times of abundance, we’d leave it and move on.

We’re in a crisis, but the crisis is masked. We don’t see the crisis, because of how food is being communicated. You can buy a 2kg bag of chicken wings from Farmfoods for £2 – I’d never shop at Farmfoods but if I only had £2 and needed to get the most calories for my family… I’d get the 2kg bag of chicken wings from Farmfoods.

If you’ve £1 in your pocket, and someone offers you a bag of flour for £1.20, you’ve only got £1. They can say here’s another bag and it’s still £1.20 but you’ve still only got £1. It doesn’t matter how much food we produce if it’s not getting to the right people.

I could get all righteous and say what’s wrong with that chicken. What matters is calories for your kids. I guarantee that anyone who’s in a position where they’ve got to do that, or using food banks or whatever, it’s just about having some food. It’s not about being healthy – they’d like it to be, no doubt about it.

We wanted a certain type of food to be accessible to everyone more or less. If you go to the supermarket, which is what most people do, they’ve put this expense on “organics”. That kind of food is never going to be accessible to everybody. We wanted to do a really simple menu that was going to be accessible. We’re not seeing it as our niche – that’s just how it should be. I don’t want to say too much about organics, I just want people to have them. Very little on the menu advertises it but about 70% is.

It’s access that we have to solve.

And what’s the solution?

There isn’t one. The first step has got to be at a community level. The ones most affected by food poverty are the ones that have got to be encouraged. You can’t go to a community like Granton and then go to another and say look I’ve got the solution, I’ve seen this, here’s some tools here’s some seeds, off you go. It has to grow organically. There’ll be people in these communities – could be a few, could be one guy – who will want to help, who will want to do something. But if all you have are fish and chip shops and budget supermarkets it’s only going to get worse.

Tom [Kirby, at Granton Community Gardeners] says community gardening is 60% chat. I think the community aspects, community development aspects are a big thing. Maybe not the main thing. I think it is all rooted in growing food. As soon as you start growing food, the issues take care of themselves.

I think it has to come bottom up, it has to grow. Then it’ll become so big you can’t ignore it. But how do you encourage people to step forward to start using empty land? Especially if they’ve no skills. Or confidence. A lot of communities around where I grew up people would leave their doors open. People don’t do that anymore. People are scared of their neighbours now more than anything. Some community gardens develop a community but not the community.

What do you see community as?

In my dissertation community was geographical but… the internet that could be a community. You can’t really define community as one thing. I tried.

The one that I want through the cafe… I don’t even want to force any issues on anyone. I just put the books in the window and let them do their own thing. If someone says that bread tastes delicious I’ll tell them why. I don’t want to attract a specific type of people either. It’s really hard.

Finally, one more impossible definition: TRJFP wants to encourage people to value food as a resource differently – how do you value food as a resource?

(Long pause) As a way to bring people together, as a way to communicate. It can be used for anything. Look at your sort of communal dining. How wonderful is it to get 30 people most of whom have never met one another to come together and the food becomes the resource for their communication? Then it kind of transcends the meal itself into something more. It’s hard – it can do so much, it can do everything if we can somehow reconnect to it, it opens up everything for us. It makes people happy as well. It can heal us. It can bring us together. I just think it’s everything.

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.

Moving food around til it’s gone

Juniper Green Primary School recently welcomed us into their kitchen to help host a dinner for 80 made from intercepted food. Pupils from Primary 4 to P7 had been working on a food waste project as one of a school-wide series of sustainability groups and the evening was a great opportunity to demonstrate practically what can be done to tackle the issue and how it can be made exciting.

The school’s chef, Brian, gave up a whole afternoon and evening to run the kitchen and his enthusiastic involvement is reason to be very optimistic. Food across the UK public sector is an area of serious concern: the food is not valued, chefs are not valued, the people eating are not valued. This must be a top priority for improvement in schools especially but so often time constraints, financial constraints and local authority procurement constraints put paid to the necessary duo of good food alongside good food education.


Pupils at Juniper Green Primary School prepping for dinner.

Here was a demonstration of that being overcome. The children were engaged and knowlegeable on food waste and excited about the food being served. TRJFP Edinburgh’s aim is to assist schools across the city in running similar events with a long-term legacy.

Elsewhere, TRJFP is developing Fuel for School, to feed school pupils on a large-scale using food that would have been wasted. It is a visionary and inspiring idea. At the TRJFP national AGM, I heard the Head at Richmond Hill Primary in Leeds, where Fuel for School took off, describe how he came to realise what was the main source of underattainment at his school: hunger. The day after a half-term holiday, staff returned to find the gas was off and could only provide pupils with a basic cold meal. That afternoon, behaviour was unprecedentedly poor. Gathering the worst culprits, Nathan asked what had changed: “We’ve been away for a week and we were expecting a hot meal.”

The story has stayed with me for what it reveals not only about desperate levels of food insecurity in this country but about children’s awareness that it is a root cause, and symptom, of inequality.

“We aim to create a microcosm of what the food system should be.”

At TRJFP Edinburgh, we have reservations about the Fuel for School initiative, brilliant though it is in the short term. Children should not have to rely on a wasteful system to be adequately fed. That is the responsibility of government, local authorities and of course families.

TRJFP has always been about eliminating wastage from the food system. This must remain its aim, but we must also remain aware that it will only be achieved alongside other change. In Edinburgh, we are now in a position where we actively support this change without demanding it under our own name: as well as working with schools, we will soon be cooking alongside refugees, helping organisations tackling food poverty, and supporting the Power of Food Festival which celebrates community growing. 

We aim to create a microcosm of what the food system should be, by helping local businesses to reduce their waste to zero, and helping build communities around food. Our role in that is summed up in our favourite catchphrase: “moving food around until it’s gone”. The more people who can benefit from that food, in a positive environment, the better.

2015 with TRJFP

It has been a very exciting first year for TRJFP Edinburgh – thank you to all those who have supported us in making Scotland’s first Pay As You Feel, intercepted food pop-up café such a success! Here’s a wee reminder of what we’ve been up to…



Charlie in the Food Rescue ambulance in Leeds

After a little deliberation about the best model, we decided to go ahead and set up as part of TRJFP – a fine decision we are pleased to say! We visited the original café in Leeds for some inspiration and motivation. The Transition Edinburgh South Grow Stronger project and Gracemount Community Centre were behind us from the start and, though the project ended in March, we couldn’t have continued without their support.



Gleaning sprouts at Knowes Farm

We began knocking on doors in search of sources of food and venues for pop-up events. We ‘gleaned’ a lot (an alarming amount) of veg from Knowes Farm near Dunbar, who were desperate for their surplus to be eaten, which is what it was grown for after all. And the Union of Genius were delightful enough to invite us to use their café!



Pop-up #1 at the Union of Genius

We took them up on the offer and held our first event there on March 1, feeding almost 80 people, with Dig-In Bruntsfield and Fruitalicious supplying food to top up what we had gathered at the farm. Mike and Jamil were enthusiastic from the start and remain key suppliers.


April showers at the Botanics


We continued to run fortnightly café events at the Union, and it was full steam ahead in April: we ran an event with a different vibe at Paradise Palms and, on the same day, presented the project and on food waste generally at the Edinburgh International Science Festival; later that month we served PAYF soup and cake to a brand new audience at the Botanical Gardens’ Spring Festival.




Full house at Breadshare in Portobello

May saw our first PAYF dinners, with the long-table, community meal set-up we had been aiming for: first at the Edinburgh Larder Café, and then at Breadshare, who had also begun supplying us with their surplus but still wonderful bread. Continuing at the Union, we also joined and helped feed the Slow Food Youth Network Eat-In, a food flash mob on the Royal Mile.


Serving to music at the Edinburgh Larder (Mihalea Bodlovic \\ AliceBoreas Photography for Edible Edinburgh)



Getting stuck in at Loretto

We held our first volunteer meeting in June, with nearly 20 people joining us at the Larder. And we needed their help – in a single weekend we fed bellies not bins at Loretto Primary School in Musselburgh (with a lot of help from the P6 pupils!), the Power of Food Festival and at Breadshare. We were also constituted as a Community Interest Company, just by the way…



Explaining ourselves at the Farmers’ Market

Just as our dreams of taking the Edinburgh Festival by storm were wearing thin, Canongate Youth were brilliant enough to offer their shiny new (despite the name) Old School Café any evening we wanted it during August. So July was relatively quiet as we braced ourselves but we returned to the Larder, and served soup and cake at the Farmers’ Market on the Slow Food stall.


Modelling our Festival menu #2


Festival time. Every Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we filled the Old School Café, feeding some 400 bellies across the month, and entertaining the owners of those bellies with discussion, music, theatre and film. We were thrilled (and relieved!) to be joined by the team from There’s No Such Thing As A Free Lunch café in Glasgow for two of the nights. More details here and here!



We spent September recovering and planning where next. Donna, newly appointed Scottish co-ordinator for TRJFP, went to Leeds to meet colleagues from across the UK.



Stuffed marrow for the BBC producers to enjoy

Zero Waste Scotland invited us to end day one of their Resources conference in Glasgow, and we cooked up soup on stage and answered questions with the Free Lunch café and TRJFP Glasgow. Reaching out to still more new audiences, we were filmed intercepting and at the Old School Café by BBC’s rural affairs programme Landward.


That programme went out at the beginning of November and was a great snapshot of what TRJFP is about. It is also about encouraging others to start up themselves, and we headed over to help out at TRJFP Glasgow’s first event – but they surely had it under control anyway! At the end of the month we had PAYF food alongside a screening of Just Eat It: a food waste movie followed by a Q&A with the filmmaker via Skype.


Brilliant bumper volunteer team at the Edinburgh Larder!


We rounded off the year with our first ‘private function’, providing dinner for Changeworks volunteers at their Christmas party. It was great to end with a new challenge and we are already planning more of those in the New Year. Fair fa’ oor honest, sonsie face…