Experience Report, Guest Article

Volunteering in Berlin: The Real Junk Food Project

women standing in line cutting mushrooms

von Lucie Heath

Since 2013, The Real Junk Food Project has been sticking a finger up to the system and feeding the world at the same time. The concept is pretty straight-forward: take would-be-wasted food and give it to the people, who in turn pay what they feel based on what they think their meal was worth. Through this simple idea the project hopes to spark a revolution – a revolution that will help reduce global food waste (an estimated 100 million tonnes of food is wasted each year in Europe alone) and alter the food consumption habits of generations to come. Oh yeah, and feed the world.

Sounds ambitious? Think again! Since the project’s humble beginnings as a pay-as-you-feel cafe in Leeds revolutionary fervor has been slowly spreading across England. Now well over one hundred projects exist across the UK as people continue to unite under the project’s rallying cry to ‘Feed bellies, not bins!’ Naturally, the revolution has begun going global and now the Real Junk Food Project exists here, in Berlin. Still in it’s infancy, the project has spent the last six months creating pop-up restaurants and catering for nonprofit events across the city. Last week I volunteered with them myself and chatted to Berlin founder Tobias about the project, sustainability and volunteering in his hometown of Berlin.

What inspired you to start the Real Junk Food Project in Berlin?

I was doing some research on different diet options, global food production and its effects on the environment. It was quite shocking to see how many resources – farmland, water, labour, etc. – go into cattle farming, which is ultimately one of the largest producers of greenhouse gases (even more than the global CO2 emissions caused by air and car traffic combined).¹

Then I discovered figures by the UN stating that 1/3 of food produced globally is actually wasted, either in the production process, in retail or in consumption. You have to realise that the resources needed to grow this food are then also wasted. And imagine the costs and effects: 10% of rich countries’ greenhouse gas emissions come from growing food that is never eaten. I was taken aback by the sheer vastness of these numbers. Every year 1.3 billion tonnes of food are wasted on this earth. Picture it: 1.3 billion tonnes of food! A tonne is a thousand kilos. And how much is a bag of potatoes? Maybe 2 kilos. It’s crazy. The amount that is wasted in the western hemisphere alone (around 220 million tonnes) equals the yearly food production of all of sub-sahara Africa.

So if we could prevent food waste, we could not only save vast amounts of resources and reduce CO2 emissions but we could also feed entire continents! This begs the question of why anyone on this green earth must go hungry?

I was deeply inspired by the Real Junk Food Project UK and their simple yet impactful approach: collecting surplus food from markets and wholesalers, creating healthy, tasty meals from it, and giving it back to the community on a pay-as- you-feel basis.

I love cooking and I was already into saving food and making a good impact on the world. The project was a perfect fit for me. So I got in touch with Adam (Smith, founder of the Real Junk Food Project in Leeds) asking if they already had a branch in Germany, and he said: “No, but please go for it!” And so I did.

The Real Junk Food Project Berlin started in June 2015 and since then we have managed to save 5.3 tonnes of food. We have been lucky to work out great partnerships with organic supermarkets in Berlin, where we rescue food on a weekly basis. It is crazy how much perfectly good organic food is just thrown away. We also were very fortunate to collaborate with amazing partners in Berlin like Cooking for Peace, Agora Collective, Sharehaus Refugio, MakeSense and WeConnect, amongst others.

Since you started the project last year you have provided food for countless events organized by social projects across Berlin. Can you tell us about a specific event you are most proud of being a part of?

It’s hard to say, since there are so many great projects and amazing people out there who do incredible work. Our kick-off event at Prinzessinnengarten was really beautiful, we had a great team, stunning weather, an amazing venue and quite a large crowd. The cooking event at Refugio Sharehaus was definitely a landmark for us. It is a wonderful venue. We met amazing people there such as Fatuma, the angel from Somalia, and Ciska from Cooking for Peace, now one of our closest partners. It was such a vibrant and warm atmosphere, with newcomers and Berliners coming together to prepare great meals and exchange Syrian and German recipes while eating, talking and falling in love – literally. It was really a magical event.

This is what I really love about our cooking events: people from diverse backgrounds coming together, working out menus with the rescued food, cooking as a team and getting to know each other. It’s always an amazing vibe.

What advice would you give to people who are trying to eat more sustainably and reduce their food waste?

Just be mindful with your food and your shopping. Check your fridge and shelves first, think what you want to cook and make a shopping list before you go to the supermarket – and try to stick to it. You can also create very tasty dishes by upcycling and pimping your leftovers from last night’s dinner for example. Be creative, research new recipes, mix and remix.

We, for instance, are getting more and more bread from our food collections and trying to figure out what to do with it. I just succeeded in making a very nice carrot cake using day-old buns soaked in milk as the basis of the dough. It was quite amazing how well that turned out.

From talking to you I understand that you have a history of volunteering in you hometown of Berlin. Why is it important for people to become involved in local social projects?

From my experiences, I find it’s a two-way street. Obviously, in food saving and other areas such as refugee support for instance, there is a lot of need and a lot to be done, especially in Berlin. So as a volunteer you can really make an impact and a difference here. But on the other hand, I find this work highly rewarding for myself. Rescuing food and distributing it to people in need, supporting good projects, working together, creating smiles and connections – it makes me personally very happy and makes this work so enjoyable. For me and our team, I believe, as well.

TRJFP at Prinzessinengärten

 Finally, what does the future hold for the Real Junk Food Project Berlin?

I think 2016 is going to be an great and busy year, it already has been. We have new people coming in, also thanks to Vostel! New ideas and partners. We might look into getting our own kitchen or cafe. I also have the dream of having a mobile kitchen or food truck to be able to cook at different events or food markets in summer. But at the moment we have to look for funding first. Yet we are growing and it’s exciting. So please join us and get involved. We are happy to have you!


If you’re in Berlin and want to get involved with the Real Junk Food Project you can of course get all the info on the vostel website and can also check out their Facebook page. If you want to learn more about the movement in general then visit the Real Junk Food Project or have a watch of the Ted Talk with founder Adam Smith.

¹ See e.g.: http://www.independent.co.uk/environment/climate-change/cow-emissions-more-damaging-to-planet-than- co2-from-cars-427843.html


Lucie Heath

Lucie is originally from Scotland and has recently moved to Berlin after completing a degree in History and Politics at the University of Edinburgh. Aside from working as a digital marketing intern, she is currently spending her time trying to assimilate into Berlin by volunteering and drinking a lot of Club Mate.

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