Cafe Abundance – an abundance of love with a load of junk food
How many of us shake our heads in horror when we hear how much food is thrown away? (30% in the UK). How many more of us worry about food poverty and the growing need and use of Foodbanks? (Camborne and Redruth are currently averaging 10,000 meals a month). And how many of us put those thoughts into action?
Café Abundance is an enterprise that very much puts those thoughts into action. Part of The Real Junk Food Project, Café Abundance (a not for profit Community Interest Company) is the baby of Jemma Morgan that is being loved and nurtured by the communities in Torpoint, Rame and Liskeard.
Jemma, wife of Rev Steve Morgan who became the vicar of Liskeard in May last year, used to run her own micro-bakery when the family lived in Wiltshire, producing artisan bread and patisseries. Making the move to Cornwall, Jemma wasn’t sure what God had in mind for her until she watched a programme on TV with Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall berating the landfill created by our mass use of unrecyclable-but-allegedly-disposable coffee cups. Her temperature rose and she trawled the internet determined to do something and came across the Real Junk Food Project. A spark was lit and Jemma knew at once what God had in mind.
The Real Junk Food Project
The Real Junk Food Project intercepts food before it’s thrown into rubbish bins. The founder, Adam Smith, believes that we’ve lost our ability to be discerning and do what the supermarkets tell us.
If something is up to or even approaching its use-by date, we panic and throw it away, “Yet if we take milk out of the fridge, thinking it might be a bit over, what do we do? We smell it.”
He’s adamant that we can all be more discerning, that we don’t need to be told when to throw away food.
Adam wanted to change the world, but was advised to change his community first. So, he opened the first ‘Pay-as- you-Feel’ café in Leeds in 2013. They collected food from markets, photo-shoots and even Foodbanks who couldn’t keep food longer than three months, and cooked it. The people came, ate and gave back more than just cash for their meal – an electrician re-wired the café, someone cleaned the windows, did the washing-up and so it grew. Today there are Pay-as-you-Feel-cafés across the world, with the Abundance Café being one of them.
Can rejected food be good for you?
It’s good for the environment, it’s a great way to be a good steward and to love your neighbour and yes, it is good for you. It’s also a lot of hard work. Jemma has built up relationships with local food suppliers, bakers and other outlets so that they keep aside food for her to collect. Nothing is dangerous, everything is edible, it just might have been the wrong shape (fruit and veg), or close to its sell-by date or a day over (bread). She spends a lot of time driving to collect produce and a day a week, with a bunch of helpers, cooking up a storm. Then, with a team of volunteers, Jemma sets up pop-up cafes in Torpoint, Kingsand, Millbrook, Liskeard and now Looe on Thursdays and Fridays.
The idea of a ‘junk-food café’ could conjure up all sorts of images, perhaps slightly grey ones, home-spun and probably not all that tasty. But walking into the Café Abundance in Liskeard at the end of January, the scene was anything but grey and the food was extremely tasty. “Getting random stuff makes me creative,” laughs Jemma. One week we had a load of croissants – I stuffed them with cheese and ham and they went down like, well, hot croissants. Then I ran out of cheese and ham, but I had mushrooms – would garlic mushrooms work? Absolutely!”
Staffed by volunteers, the café had a great vibe, busy, colourful and smelt heavenly. Everyone worked hard as orders were taken, cooked and served and the school hall was buzzing with the sounds of people chatting, laughing and enjoying themselves. It felt like a real café with customers most definitely the priority.
Serving Jesus at the Ritz
“I ask the volunteers to imagine they are serving Jesus at the Ritz!” says Jemma. On that day, customers were treated to delights that included carrot and citrus soup with croutons, stuffed red peppers, homemade pasties, steak and horseradish sandwiches, falafelly patties and gluten-free pasta with Mediterranean veg. Each table had a cloth, flowers and a pepper grinder. “If people really want salt, which we don’t really need but add mostly out of habit, then people can go and use it at the salad bar table!”
Jemma has a different team of volunteers in each venue and, like the original Junk Food Project café in Leeds, finds that needs are met not just with cash but practical offers of help. One man was so taken with the project he paid for a year’s hire of the hall in Torpoint.
“I have strange prayer requests!” says Jemma. “We were given a three-kilo bag of custard powder but now it’s running out – and everyone loves custard! I’m praying that one in at the moment!”
Jemma has got to the stage where the project pays for her petrol and she has been able to buy everything from aprons, polo-shirts and table-cloths to crockery, cutlery and boring business costs like rent and insurance. The aprons and polo-shirts are significant. “Jobs are scarce in a lot of the areas where we work and self-esteem can be low. Giving a volunteer a smart shirt, clean apron and responsibility shows that they are valued and important; self-worth grows as people realise they have value and are part of something good. And they really are important – Cafe Abundance simply couldn’t happen without them.”
Do people pay?
“We ask that people think about the value of the food they are eating,” says Jemma. “I picked up the donations pot in one venue and it was heavy with coppers and 5p coins. In another it was feather-light and I panicked, but it was full of notes. One venue will support another. But it’s not just about that, it’s about encouraging people to value food – tomatoes, no matter how high they’re piled and how cheap they are, still take 8 months to grow. A farmer has nurtured the plant from seed, the fruit has been harvested, packed and transported, all of which costs time and resource. There is no such thing as a free lunch.”
It is hard work but as Jemma says, “Jesus said something about it’s doing the work of my Father that feeds me (John 4:34), and that’s how I feel. More and more nourished, just a bit tired!”
Jemma is starting up a basic cookery courses. “If you can make a white sauce, you can make a meal! Lasagne, macaroni cheese…so I’m starting with that, then onto eggs. Just basic cooking to help people to get the most out of cheaper ingredients, rather than expensive processed food that’s bad for your health, your pocket and the environment – don’t get me started on packaging!”
Jemma would love to have someone to work with a co-pilot perhaps. If you feel inspired by what Jemma and her team are doing, and live in the Liskeard/Torpoint area, and feel called to help, please contact Jemma