The Real Junk Food Project in Brighton – a radical reinterpretation of the problem of waste.

Odo, adored revolutionary in Ursula Le Guin’s ‘The Dispossessed’, in her manifesto for a new world, envisions a system of perfect efficiency and diligence when she proclaims, ‘waste is excrement’. Closer to home, Doug McMaster of Silo, chef wizard of waste would agree – albeit in less crude terms – when he insists, ‘waste is a failure of the imagination’. Both perspectives may be read as a meditation on the devastating failure of our global food economy – which, corrupted by the cold pursuit of profit, creates a vast polarity of scarcity and abundance, and which brings only discord and disease to our communities, and to the intricate ecologies on which those communities depend.

Indeed, waste in the context of our globalised food system is no small thing – each year, 1 billion tons of the stuff gets wasted, whilst 805 million people go hungry. In the UK, we waste an average of 7 million tons per year, with half of this waste being perfectly edible. This amounts to about £60 worth of food, per month, per household. 50,000 of those tons are produced by Brighton alone, 11066785_337837106411999_2620144285110076773_n20% domestically.

This excessive and wasteful production of food has significant environmental costs too – the global food economy emits a third of global greenhouse gas emissions. Indeed, food waste alone is the third biggest contributor of GHG’s to the atmosphere. Set against a backdrop of a rapidly expanding population and runaway climate change, we have a situation that threatens not just the health and dignity of the individual, but the survival of our species.

The political situation in the UK is grim. The false flag austerity agenda of our incumbent government persists in forcing millions deeper into poverty – the fact that ‘food poverty’ is an issue in the 7th richest country in the world speaks to an endemic economic and political corruption, where the rich as ever continue to gorge on a privileged and spectacular cuisine, whilst millions are destitute to the handouts of charities, and the goodwill of food activists throughout the UK. It is estimated that over 20 million meals were 11096391_337836696412040_6075739430478836594_ngiven to the hungry between 2012/13 by three main food providers, a dramatic 54% increase from previous years – a figure that likely pales considering the added handouts from fringe community projects.

The Real Junk Food Project in Brighton (TRJFPB) is an example of the kind of creative resistance and grassroots transformation of the problem of waste that is emerging in the UK. Hoovering up our food waste in Brighton and putting it in peoples bellies, where it belongs. Last week, I visited the project and the launch of their new crowdfunding drive to raise funds for a permanent junk food cafe in Brighton. Although, looking around the ‘one church’ – pop up home to the project every Friday afternoon between 1 – 3PM – resistance seemed an unlikely word to describe the chirpy collective busying themselves around food prep and service, or sat grazing over their salvaged tucker.

I arrived early to an almost empty church hall, not expecting the place to pack out so fast and with such numbers (the project has fed around 150 people a week since its launch in January, fluctuating to a whopping 300 for the crowdfunding launch). It takes a while for the significance of the abundance and diversity of the food on offer to sink in – community members of all ages ladled steaming goodies from huge trays down one side of the room, for omnivore, vege and vegan alike; with at least six or seven different salads on display. To the other side of the hall hissed and 11032763_337837129745330_8446880961472547821_nwhirred a well outfitted coffee station and at the back, two little islands, one packed with sweet treats and another with raw juices churned through a proper masticator.  A veritable food utopia – all destined for landfill without the ingenuity of this plucky tribe.

Sitting down with my meal, a turkey round and stuffing with a trio of dressed salads and some dried mango, I tried to suss out what felt so peculiar about the atmosphere. The capitalist doctrine of profit and transaction doesn’t hold here – the usual web of relations that make up an eatery were dissolved. I wasn’t a consumer here and the lovelies running the ship, weren’t staff either. We were participants – kin to a counter-culture of food making a radical statement of ‘not in our name’. At the end of the servery, a modest collection box stood stating ‘pay as you feel’, the slogan that has come to embody the egalitarian philosophy of the junk food movement. Pay in ideas if you want, volunteer, contribute a song or a poem – and if it’s one of 18402_337836263078750_8788323449661410477_nthose days where you just have nothing to give, your presence and smile will do. This radical principle of equality and mutual aid creates diversity, and therefore a resilient and capable community – people are brought together despite their ‘status’, to sit, eat and dream together, to go on to create a different world.

Adam Buckingham, progenitor of TRJFPB, seems to take all this in his stride. He glides around the church hall like a waste guru, greeting people with hugs and smiles; one of those guys that your Mum would love. In political debate, he’s principled, alert and engaging – you can see how, with his sheperding, the project has established itself. The other volunteers, with obvious care, stop him in mid flight to nourish him with ‘junk’ food and juice. Adam 10389427_337836043078772_574006537719531771_nis one of six ‘directors’ of the project who are driving forward an ambitious plan to secure a permanent commercial residence in Brighton; building on the success of other waste cafe’s in Bristol and Leeds they are trying to found a full-time creative outlet for Brighton’s food waste, and a hub for food-activism and learning.

In Brighton, we’re lucky that waste-activism is pretty well established thanks to a network of dedicated activists – and the success of Silo here, the UK’s first zero-waste restaurant, has helped even more to popularise the message and encourage a strong community ethos around food. A RJFPB cafe in Brighton is important beyond its utility in reducing and redistributing waste of course – it creates a radical space of alterity, where a community comes together to think differently about society through food. In short, it’s much more utopian than full bellies – it’s about a different way of life: eco-conscious and from the grassroots up, potential that you don’t get served up in starbucks. Beyond that, its success will mean a full-time hub of inspiration that serves to influence (agitate?) the ethos and practices of Brighton’s wider food enterprise.

Positive appropriation and transformation of waste, full bellies on a ‘pay as you feel’ tariff, skills exchange and learning, community development and empowerment, and radical politics all under one roof – all run on voluntary steam, for 15K?

That’s a steal in anybodies books – Odo, would be proud.

(Photos by Louiza Hamidi of CURB: Southampton’s Junk Food Kitchen).

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The ugly mirror of Foie-Gras. A ‘taste’ we can do without.

This morning I awoke to my notoriously difficult to shake habit of reaching for my phone and scrolling my facebook feed. By all accounts, my feed is full of interesting and challenging stuff in equal measure and this morning was no exception: Today I came across a posting by a friend about Foie-Gras with the caveat “This is to horrid not to share” – she wasn’t wrong.

The web-storm of commentary on Foie-Gras comes after a federal judge struck down the ban on serving it in California.

Foie-Gras is a grotesque industrialised form of animal farming, to produce a delicacy savoured in the West as a profound eating experience. So profoundly sensuous that the roundup of views from the outpourings of food critics resemble the kind of poetic testimony you’d expect of people having some transcendental experience. The taste of Foie-Gras is ‘soul-ful’; an ‘indisputably delicious’ taste that privileged Westerner’s just can’t do without. And won’t.

The manufacturing of Foie-Gras is essentially a process whereby duck or geese are subjected to gavage, or force feeding, which makes their liver expand some 600% and which after slaughter is distributed to the tables of over-privileged food consumers the world over, who quaff with distasteful charm and an alarming arrogance about the heavenly status of this hellish commodity.

I don’t think I need to reiterate the specifics of the actual physiological harm brought about by a force feeding process, or the torturous reality of it either (enough of us have seen it’s application in humans to serve a violent and oppressive politics – that the production of Foie-Gras maps into the same matrix of oppression should be no peculiar thing). For those that need more convincing though, there are some further resources here and here.

But needless to say, the last 25 days fattening period of the birds sees the poor animals languishing in panic, in wire cages. The human reaction surely on looking at any industrialised process of animal agriculture is to feel instinctively the horror of that reality. With Foie-Gras, one empathises on such a base level with those creatures that the whole gut shifts uneasily, and the glove of our skin seems to shrink back from the heat of human-shame manifest by this abominable process.

 

In the short video above, one duck in particular, suffering what might be a ruptured oesophagus and broken beak, is rinsed down the front of its chest with blood and filth. I’ve tried a variety of words to impress the horror of this scene, but none of them seem to fit. But in that one trembling bird, who echoes the horror of every bird mercy to this grotesque fate before and after, there is a terrible mirror. Staring at that one duck, collapses the concepts deployed in our culture that keep us emotionally and spiritually detached from the living world around us; bringing our embodied experience as sentient beings, our biological and conscious commonality, to well up as a devastating realisation behind the eyes.

For a second, there is a glimpse of and opening to the violence that pervades our culture. Foie-Gras is a matter of taste. Taste as distinction maps onto the oppressive class structure of our society – between those who can distinguish and those who can’t, and those who have the means too and those who don’t. Quaffing about Foie-Gras has little to do with its culinary worth and everything to do with prestige and status. And it’s inexcusable that these animals are caught up in that vacuous dynamic.

The value of Foie-Gras and the sensibility to consume it only makes sense in a system profoundly ruptured from an embodied understanding of the symbiotic-reality of all life in our vast and intricate ecology. So ruptured, that all other life can be recognised only for it’s utility, and in the case of Foie-Gras – as some murky badge of honour to accompany a self-serving, unapologetic and narcissistic worldview.

This heavy delicacy of congested liver is a most profound metaphor for a perpetual ecology of anger in our society.

And it all comes at a cost I’d say, that is just to high to pay.