From scraps to riches: A new community catering concept breathes new life into discarded delicacies. Eat well, eat local, and ease food waste at London’s Save the Date café.
Dalston is where it’s at in London. Home to both old East-end locals and young, up-and-coming internationals, the trendy neighborhood has found a new way to cater for its community. Here, the Save the Date café, a pay-as-you-feel restaurant and food community center, whips up some fantastic meals from food originally destined for landfills. 2.5 days a week, trained chef James and Ruth, a student and organic farm employee, invite their guests to bridge the gap between urban challenges and everyday eating habits. Their concept: save the world by eating well. To get a better taste of what this entails, we joined Ruth and James in their pursuits, from food collection to reception.
Buzzing in the Bee Garden
At the café’s home in Dalston’s Bootstrap Building, a large hexagon-shaped gate welcomes guests into a contained open-air yard where all sorts of projects are in progress, surrounding a hand-built kitchen. The whole space exudes the distinct feel of a creative center, with participants ranging from local school children to hipsters and the homeless. Here, at the Bee Garden, everyone comes together at several tables. Built and inspired by a waste-free mindset, all building materials were saved from scrap heaps and assembled on this secluded piece of space just off a busy street that crosses Dalston.
The new junk food
The café challenges the concept of ‘junk food,’ reframing it as ‘being good for you food’ that is unnecessarily wasted rather than ‘bad for you food’ that is happily sold. Eating ‘good junk’ combats the massive food waste of farmers, companies, and individuals, bite by bite. To be clear, this food is not rotten or unfit for consumption – instead, it is food that has erroneously been lost in translation between farm, factory, wholesale, shop, and consumer. According to Ruth, these lost fruit are indeed food for thought as “almost 40 % of all food produced in the UK goes to landfill.”
Thus the food waste or, as they prefer to call it, intercepted food is not what it sounds like, but more what it looks like: yummy. Save the Date cooks with raw ingredients and the ever-changing menu, presented daily on their black board, is nothing less than restaurant quality. James shows us the kitchen and explains the food and health regulations. Checks are regularly performed by independent bodies, which continue to award them full marks – very impressive considering the modest set-up. Both James and Ruth are experts at going beyond expectations – and treated us to some of the best mozzarella we have ever had.
Another important element in the mix is the café’s revolutionary payment system. As a not-for-profit egalitarian eatery, they provide food on a pay-as-you-feel (#PAYF) basis.
Ruth explains that “the system lets customers pay what they feel the food is worth, allowing our community to eat great food, whilst creating a better world.”
According to them, the system is surprisingly well-received and people actually tend to pay more, and leave more satisfied, when the ‘pay as you feel’ method is on the table. For Save the Date this approach makes sense on many levels. Most importantly, it enables everyone to take part, creating a truly inclusive experience with genuine power for change. And the result is noticeable – visitors are diverse and enthusiastic. Considering the fact that the urban project does not have to pay for ingredients, the philosophy is both fitting and realistic. Everything runs successfully on donations of time, energy, food, patronage, and ‘what you feel’ contributions. #PAYF ‘pays off’ all round, with suppliers eager to donate surplus food, which is sold fairly and inclusively, thus benefiting the local community.
The biggest donation however, comes from Ruth and James themselves, who give tirelessly to what is more than an eatery. Their gorgeously contagious passion spreads the love of food to everyone who’s hungry (for change). On Saturdays, the community is invited to come and pick up a free ‘waste basket’ to complement their weekend groceries. Save the Date is a true community center, promoting sustainable and conscious consumption as well as a social experience that allows us to take an active part in the movement against food waste.
Feeding by example
Meanwhile, behind metropolitan facades, waste management is the name of the less sexy urban game. Ambitious cities are increasingly becoming more mindful of food waste, encouraging citizens to use better disposal options, but also to be less wasteful in the first place. Recycling in 2015 is all about expanding the circular economy; it’s about choosing up- before re-. The café leads the movement by example, feeding consumers a more circular re-valuation of food. We were only too happy to join their table and are, too, saving the date for a waste-free future.
Save the Date café
2, Abbot Street
London, United Kingdom
All pictures, incl. the header image: smart magazine