Evaluation of community junk food cafés’ impact on food supply chains, public health, deprived communities and reducing food waste in the North West

Approximately 10 million tonnes of food is wasted in the UK every year, 60% of which could be avoided; the equivalent of £17 billion and 20 million tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. 710,000 tonnes of surplus food is currently redistributed via charitable and commercial routes. One avenue for redistribution is The Real Junk Food Project and its network of cafés primarily aimed at providing meals made from surplus food on a ‘pay as you feel’ basis. 

In collaboration with The Skelmersdale Junk Food Café, researchers from Liverpool and Manchester undertook a study looking at the additional public health benefits provided by Junk Food Cafés over and above reducing food waste. The café is located in a deprived community which experiences a high amount of food poverty, and is run through the Birchwood Centre (a charity aiming to improve the life skills of young people (aged 13-25) in ‘crisis’ situations).

Interviews and questionnaires were conducted with both customers and those running the café. Outcomes showed that customers felt visiting the café tackled both social isolation and food poverty, with the café providing a place to meet others and access healthy food. The volunteers working in the café showed improvement in their mental health from developing new skill sets and there was a sense that the cafe improved community cohesion with customers feeling that it was a venture they wanted to support.

The key messages that emerged out of the project were that Junk Food Cafés have the potential to have a positive impact on public health and the potential to help combat food poverty and social isolation in deprived communities