This Saturday we are supporting our local football heroes by decorating our café yellow, black and red. Help us “paint the town yellow” by wearing yellow, red or black to the café at The Barn this Saturday. We’ll have colourful cupcakes, jellies and much more.
One of our regular venues is The Meriden Community Centre in the heart of The Meriden Ward of Watford. We have been holding our Cafés here for over a year and have got to know quite a few of the local residents. We were recently asked by the Meriden Residents Committee if we would like to join in with their Easter Community Event to be held as part of the Great British Spring Clean.
We love connecting with other community groups so, of course we said yes. We normally hold our café in the smaller flexi-space hall but for this event we were in the larger hall. With extra tables and people to cater for we made extra floral table decorations and expanded our menu.
The Residents Committee collected a large number of bags full of litter making the area around the centre looked lovely in the sunshine. Once they’d all finished cleaning up they joined us in the hall for veggie bean chilli, pasta bake and vegetable soup. We had a record amount of people for our Saturday café with 58 joining us.
Our bakers added an Easter touch to the sweet treats on offer.
The Residents committee had organised an Easter bonnet competition – there were some beautiful creative bonnets with the judge finding it very difficult to choose a winner. At the end of the café all the children received a chocolate Easter egg each which made a lot of little faces smile. It was a very busy and fun event and we hope to hold more joint events throughout the year.
Why ‘Random’ Café? Where does the food come from and why? How much should I pay?
I’m hoping I can answer some of these questions here.
Why ‘Random’ Café?
The idea for a waste food café came from a group of friends in Watford who wanted to make a difference both socially, and environmentally for a more sustainable future. We all met through Reason Coffee shop and, from the start had similar views of the world. Once I started researching food waste and what we could do, it was very apparent there is a huge food waste problem globally not just locally. Over a third of all food produced is thrown away for a variety of reasons. Most common is cosmetic!! Think how we would feel if someone called us ugly. A potato is a potato no matter what it looks like. It still mashes, roasts and makes chips. I realised from the start that we would get an eclectic mix of ingredients and produce and when I explained this to my youngest daughter she said “so its going to be really Random”. Random Café was born.
Where does the food come from?
We get food from anywhere that sells or produces food. We currently intercept food from Morrisons, Co-op and Tesco. We also collect food from a local bakery, a local catering company and local food banks. We are now looking at new suppliers and links to intercept and save even more food from going to landfill.
Why? There are too many reasons to list but I will cover the top ones.
Best before dates!! Not to be confused with a ‘use by date’. The crazy world of putting a date on packaging to tell us when the food will not be at its best.
“The best before date, sometimes shown as BBE (best before end), is about quality and not safety. The food will be safe to eat after this date but may not be at its best. Its flavour and texture might not be as good.” (food.gov.uk)
This means up to this date the food will be the best it can be. We get kilos and kilos of food each week because of best before dates. I’m sure we all can tell which apple is good to eat.
Damaged packaging!! Some packaging gets knocked about and gets dented or ripped. We get a lot of dented tins, broken boxes of cereal, unstuck bags of sugar and lots and lots of tea. The inner packaging is often untouched and is still keeping the contents safe.
Over stock or Promotions/Seasonal!! This sounds like three different reasons but all comes down to one – over-ordering or producing. Think of a celebration – Easter, Christmas or Fathers’ day. Supermarkets have to stock enough products to cover the demand of the customer. This is difficult to predict, even more so during seasonal shopping. For example we intercepted lots of these lovely ice cream wafers. A change in the weather meant not many people were thinking about ice cream so these are then in the way. Supermarkets look huge but the warehouse is not as big as you would think (I’ve had a sneaky peek at a few in my time with Random Café.) They want surplus stock out of the way. We can save this surplus and bring it to you either as part of our cafe or in our shop.
How much should I pay?
As a member of The Real Junk Food Project, http://www.trjfp.com, and with signed agreements with the supermarkets, we cannot charge for the food we collect. We can only offer it for a donation and because of this we don’t have prices for any of the intercepted food. We offer everything at our café on a pay as you feel basis. I know this can be very confusing to anyone who has not come across something like this before. The idea is to pay in time, money or skills – putting a value on the food and the people. Food is valuable – a lot has happened to bring the produce to the supermarket in the first place. Water, energy, time all have a cost. People have put in time and effort. Farmers getting up early to tend to their crops, grocers collecting and displaying their goods to look the best that they can and keep them as fresh as possible and for us the volunteers who are the life force of Random Café.
Random Café is run completely on volunteers giving their time and skills for free. This may seem like we have no overheads, I wish this were the case. There is so much going on behind the scenes to bring you the café you see on a Saturday.
When you visit Random Café, or one of the 120+ Junk food project cafes around the country, you are paying for the time of everyone involved. You are also helping to pay for any extra ingredients needed (e.g stock cubes, eggs, milk), energy to cook the food, vehicle costs to collect all the produce and transport it to venues, admin costs for leaflets and accounting etc, insurances for the volunteers and customers safety and venue hire to name but a few. When you add all these costs together you have more of an idea of what it costs to bring Random Café to all.
We love running the cafe and we’re always happy to see new faces aswell as welcome our regular customers and we look forward to seeing you soon at one of our upcoming Cafés 💚
Bring a bag, Bring a friend, Bring a Smile!
Behind the scenes of Random Café is a team of 9 volunteers who meet and discuss new ideas to help Random grow and save more good food from being thrown away. As most of you know, we hold pop up cafés on the first four Saturdays of the month. Every now and then there are five Saturdays and instead of there being nothing the team decided to plan some Random events.
The first event was to be an afternoon tea on Mother’s Day weekend. Everyone loves an afternoon tea, but where to hold it? There are a lot of lovely venues in Watford so we had a few places to consider. We are “Random” Café so we really wanted somewhere unique and different. After a brief discussion, we decided to approach Watford Museum and see if they would like to be our first venue. Sarah and her team absolutely loved the idea and even said we could have the room for free.
Venue sorted! The next steps were to find a massive amount of crockery to fit the theme and work out the menu for the day. Being part of The Real Junk Food Project (www.trjfp.com), and wanting to use as much intercepted food as possible, we needed to plan a flexible menu we could tweak nearer the day. We decided a traditional afternoon tea menu was the way to go. Sandwiches, scones, yummy cakes and chocolates. Each time we intercepted food from the supermarkets we squirreled away any tasty treats we could use on the day. Broken Easter eggs to coat our chocolate balls, cake mixes, chocolates and sweets all were put to one side.
Over the next few weeks everyone kept their eyes peeled for teacups, sugar bowls and plates each time they went into a charity shop. Two of our team even went on a road trip to Thetford and came back with a huge haul of side plates, cups, saucers and mini cafetieres. Plates were drilled and made into cake stands and a new collection box decorate especially for the occasion.
We arranged with a local baker, Kingshill bakery in South Oxhey, to collect any bread they had left the day before. They support us regularly by saving bread and cakes for our café, their breads are delicious- try them out. We had to buy some ingredients on the day, butter, cheese, ham and eggs as we rarely get “use by” foods.
The day came and all the planning and making was put together. Sandwiches made, tables dressed with vintage teacups, recycled bottle lights, jelly sweets in beautiful sugar bowls and a little gift for each guest. The teapots were gathered on the lovely antique bar that greets you in the museum foyer. The room looked amazing.
Everything went smoothly and so many guests commented how wonderful everything was. Quite a few bought the bottle lights off their table and some took extra cakes home to treat other family members and friends. Our first afternoon tea was over and all the hard work of the Random team and support of the Museum team paid off. An event enjoyed by everyone.
Well done team, what shall we plan next?
Random Cafe, part of the Real junk food project will be at The Barn, Central Watford on Saturday the 5th of May from 1.30-3.30pm. Join us and feed bellies not bins.