Just over a month ago, The Skipchen, Bristol’s first ‘skip kitchen’, introduced what can only be described as guerrilla gastronomy at its best. Our food writer Kate Latham takes a visit…
For this community food surplus café operating on a pay-as-you-feel basis, the reception in Stokes Croft has been nothing less than overwhelming in support for founders Adam Smith and Johanna Hewitt and their merry team of voluntary food bandits.
With food besieged, bequeathed and blocked from binning disaster, not a bite goes to waste. Those who hang around until closing time at 3.30pm are in for an extra treat – leftovers of the leftovers get passed around daily until all is left are the hands serving them.
Very much aware that dumpster diving is illegal, Adam and his team felt the bigger crime is the 15 million tons the UK waste in edible food a year. And interestingly, there are ways to get skip food without ever getting in a skip – just ask those on the ‘skip run’. All it takes is a little observation and anyone can turn into a skip super sleuth. With a handy timetable, intercepting is what The Skipchen do best. Co-director Sam Joseph would know, having been swimming in skips for three years. Just to clarify, it can be vouched that he is alive and £5000 better off for it.
“Skips are thought of as a bit of a scandal but that’s just one part of the Real Food Project – we get food from farms, small local businesses and families,” says Sam.
Although, unlike many other countries, the UK offers food banks and an emergence of local soup-bowl schemes, when it comes to walking in and asking for such a basic human need as nourishment, that moment can be hard and demoralising for anyone.
To have a community cafe open their arms, welcome all, and accept time, skills, or as little or as much money as you can afford, is an incredible step in narrowing the divide between those who have plenty and those who do not. At the very least it is a greatly-needed and heart-warming concept.
“We have a real mix of people coming to the cafe and they sit on two long tables, so you could have a businessman sitting next to someone who is homeless one lunchtime,” Adam explains.
It seems the sky’s the limit for The Skipchen. I feel this is a revolutionary social concept which should hit home hard for businesses less aware of the true cost of food waste while also encouraging thoughtful discussion on the subject among the regular and non-regular Joes all around the country.
It would be a truly great achievement for people, for society as well as The Skipchen if alleviating the stigma surrounding food waste, leftovers and slightly out-of-date food, began over bin bread and cast-away cheese.
Big on health, hygiene and sanitation, every bit of food saved from the bins is sent straight to the fridge where it remains until chef Dylan Rakhra gets his hands on it. From Mediterranean platters to kiln-smoked salmon, smoothies, salads and cakes, Dylan makes it all and couldn’t be having a happier time doing it.
“It’s really fun. You look at what you’ve got; you make up meals and serve them. People seem to be loving it.”
One of the greatest obstacles, apart from the wheelie bins and dumpsters we so determinedly pile high with our one-day-out fish fillets, is us and our attitudes. As a country we created not only a demand but a need for someone to point out the ignorant, often arrogant and blasé attitude to the concept of leftovers and out-of-date food. When we see a hungry child on the TV our bellies retch, yet we comfort ourselves with a handful of fresh-out-the-pack chocolate biscuits and go about our day binning meats, cheeses, fresh produce and more, simply for its lack of appeal.
So why do we do it? There are a good handful of companies that are easy to blame. We all know who. Walk outside for five minutes and you’ll find yourself in one of their establishments with a cheeseburger and chips for less than a bus ticket. Head to certain supermarkets and five pounds buys you a good supply of dead, processed, beige, non-food. Yes, we could blame the supermarkets, but it’s up that buys it. With food so cheap and our connection to food and nature getting weaker by the decades, anyone who takes a minute can see we have replaced fresh with convenient, home-made with handy, dinner time replaced by online takeaways, drive-thrus and anything convenient, digital and super-fast.
But here, right in little old Bristol is the best example around of how to do it better in the future. Having already initiated this freegan scheme in Melbourne, originally, then in Adam’s hometown of Leeds, I see no limit for this band of thoughtful and responsible raiders of the lost rubbish.
To all hawk-eyed food vendors, farms, families, local businesses and you there with your sack of carrots about to make their way to the compost, give The Skipchen’s very own food ambulance an emergency call on 07944 724215 or tweet them. I can bet you they will take it with a smile and turn it into something to make you smile.
The Skipchen is open Monday to Friday between 9am and 3.30pm, but not weekends. Watch this space for the first Real Junk Food Project Brighton café – opening soon!