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The Real Junk Food Project: Waste not, want not

Charley Rogers talks to The Real Junk Food Project and Dixons Marchbank Academy about food waste and fighting hunger

Posted by Debbie Botham | May 31, 2017 | Catering & hospitality

This year’s British Nutrition Foundation conference was a special occasion on many levels, not least due to its 50th Anniversary celebrations, and the presence of the foundation’s patron, HRH Princess Anne.

The conference was also populated with numerous informative and interesting presentations on various elements of school nutrition, from discussions of current research, to international considerations of both nutrition and exercise recommendations.

However, certainly the most moving and shocking presentation came from Nathan Atkinson, Headteacher at Richmond Hill Primary School in Leeds. Nathan began his presentation with a story about an incident that happened at his school a short while after he became headteacher. Relaying the incident, he spoke about a young boy who had been reprimanded by his teacher for severe bad behaviour in the classroom, and was subsequently taken to the headteacher’s office. Instead of punishing the child for poor behaviour, Nathan asked what had led him to behave in such a way. The reaction of the boy was both a shock and a revelation to Nathan. That week, the school had suffered a problem with their gas supply, and as such, instead of a post-half term roast dinner, the children were served sandwiches for lunch. Seemingly, not a problem. However for the boy in Nathan’s office, the roast dinner to which he had been looking forward would have been his only hot meal since leaving school the week previously; his family could simply not afford to provide a sufficient amount of hot food at home.

Fuel for School

Upon realising that this issue was affecting many families in the area, Nathan immediately got to work on figuring out a way to address the problem of hunger in local communities, or ‘Holiday Hunger’. After some research, Nathan contacted Adam Smith, founder of The Real Junk Food Project (TRJFP). TRJFP is a community programme that intercepts surplus food that would otherwise be sent to landfill, and distributes it through their ‘Pay As You Feel’ cafes, which allow patrons to donate money, time, or expertise in exchange for the food.

Working together, Nathan and Adam subsequently put in place an initiative that allowed The Real Junk Food Project to provide food for Richmond Hill Primary, Nathan’s school. This initiative was named Fuel for School, and is now active in 35 primary schools across Leeds and the surrounding region.

Dixons Marchbank

One of the schools with which Fuel for School have been working, Dixons Marchbank in Bradford, has really taken to the initiative, with children of all ages getting involved with various elements of the programme, from a Real Junk Food Project-fuelled café, to a weekly market. The programme at Dixons Marchbank is run by Principal's PA Hannah Bowers, and supported by the Fuel for School project’s Kevin Mackay.

Speaking to AT, Hannah commented, 'The children have been extremely enthusiastic about the project, grabbing hold of all the opportunities it has provided, and played a key part in engaging parents with the market stall they run weekly. Our year four classes put on a café using produce from The Real Junk Food Project, inviting their parents into school to enjoy their culinary delights.'

Hannah cites a “real purpose to the children’s learning” as one of the most beneficial elements of the partnership with The Real Junk Food Project. Making sure that children learn about the issue of food waste, and see the effects in real life, means that they are more likely to understand why projects like The Real Junk Food Project do what they do, and why they are such a necessary resource in society.

The project has also been used across the curriculum, allowing the children to learn about all different aspects of food and nutrition. They have started their own compost heap, and have learned about each other’s cultural backgrounds through sharing cooking time.

A wider impact

As well as learning about food waste, and how good nutrition is an essential part of life, the students at Dixons Marchbank are also learning about environmentalism, and using their new-found knowledge to help the local community. Speaking to AT about the Fuel for School project, The Real Junk Food Project’s Educational Coordinator Kevin Mackay explained the education programme that has been rolled out at Dixons and other schools, and how the impact moves far beyond just the school.

'Fuel For School not only provides nutritionally valued food for young children and the communities they are growing up in, but also empowers them to positively influence change in the future for themselves and the rest of the world,” said Kevin. “We have seen this in abundance at Dixons Marchbank where the children, staff, and local community have not only enjoyed the incredible food provided but through our education package and the creative work of the staff at the school have actively joined our campaign against food waste.'

To donate to The Real Junk Food Project, visit their website.

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