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Case Study: Just Eat It

At the University of Bristol the ‘Just Eat It’ group (no longer running) helped to raise awareness of food poverty, as we hear in this video.
So the Just Eat It project is a student-led project, it’s part of Bristol Hub, and our aim is to challenge students’ views on food waste and the issues that it causes to the environment and sustainability. We started doing pop-up cafes using surplus food and going and collecting stuff that would otherwise go in the bin, cooking it up into really delicious meals, giving it to them in return for donations that then go on to other food waste charities. We’ve done charities abroad and charities in the UK.
Yeah we just want to talk to students and get them engaged in what problems there are with food waste, what happens in this country, what happens in other countries and try and get them to get involved and waste less food at home and put pressure on the supermarkets as well. We’ve had a lot of students wanting to get involved, I think the cheap food helps with that. We’ve had a lot of people wanting to get involved, volunteer with us, just getting stuck in and a lot of people have come to us and said you know it’s really made a difference now, I waste no food at home, I didn’t realise there was such a problem.
I try and choose things at the supermarket, so I waste less at home. We work through social media, we’ve got a page, so we try and reach as many people as possible at uni, talk to friends. I’d say it’s quite easy at university because everyone’s very interconnected, so we’ve done poster campaigns and then on the events themselves to try and raise awareness about food waste. We just show them that we’ve made this amazing food with food that was going to go to waste and they’re really impressed, like, ‘wow this was one day from two shops.’
I volunteered at one of the trial cafes, I just went went along and helped out cook and it was just a real nice sense of community with everyone there, all the volunteers getting stuck in, cooking together and having fun and no one knew each other but by the end of it we were really close friends. You just have a sense of community and before that I didn’t really realise how much of an issue it was, so it was eye-opening in that sense as well. One of the big things I learnt was that putting food in landfill is awful.
I thought it would be fine as it just decomposes and I was like, ‘oh it’ll be okay it’s not going to last there for years,’ but actually it decomposes anaerobically because it’s covered with loads of other stuff and produces methane in the atmosphere, which is one of the most harmful greenhouse gases, it’s much worse than carbon dioxide. So by putting food in landfill, which sort of seems okay on the surface, it’s actually awful and I never used my food waste bin, I was really bad and now I can’t stop, I’m obsessed, I’ll actually take food out of the landfill that my housemates have put in and put it into the food waste bin.
As this has been the first year that the project’s run, we’ve tried lots of different things. We’ve done stalls at markets when we’re just talking to people and giving out the soup, we’ve done big sort of events with speakers and musicians and then we’ll talk a bit about food waste. We did a cooking workshop which was really good fun and we just had a group of, I think it was 15, people come along and we got lots of food that would otherwise go in the bin and sort of got them to get stuck in and work out what was actually bad, what was fine to use and then cook some things up and then we had a nice meal.
So realising that there’s lots of different stages, it’s not just the supermarkets throwing things away, it’s not just us throwing things away, it’s everywhere, it’s in the fields, it’s transportation, it’s storage. It’s supermarket standards and us as well. The UK has a lot to do still. I have a feeling that people are becoming more aware and there are supermarkets opening in Birmingham for example, they have a supermarket that’s just to collect food from going to waste and they sell it or give it away I think or don’t put a price on it. France is really good for food waste, it’s illegal there now to waste food.
So supermarkets get fined if they throw anything in the bin and they tend to give it to people that need it. It’s nice when you get in touch with someone and they’ve already heard of you. Seeing that there is a recognition out there and people are sort of taking note and realising that it’s a thing is great and then hearing that has made a difference to people as well. People will come up to you and say ‘I had no idea, this is mad, how is this such a problem and no one talks about it? Thank you so much for telling me.’ So yeah it’s really nice to hear.

At the University of Bristol, students are challenging perceptions of food waste. The ‘Just Eat It’ group helped to raise awareness of food poverty as a global challenge and showed how we can act to tackle it locally. The project began when undergraduate chemistry student Charlotte Rowan was inspired by another food waste charity FoodCycle (discussed in the next case study). She turned her inspiration into action in the Bristol area.

The Just Eat It student volunteers cultivated sustainable attitudes towards food and raised money for charity. They did this by hosting workshops and pop-up cafés, running campaigns and inviting interesting speakers on topics of food and consumption. On campus, they worked with staff to reduce waste. They also engaged beyond the University and into the local area.

Just Eat It rescued food from the Bristol area and saved it from being sent to landfill sites. This food was used to make meals at pop-up café events. Here, members of the public paid as much or as little as they liked for the meal. To make these events even more appealing, live entertainment and film screenings were often hosted at the same time. This student led project shows how a challenging issue can be addressed in a positive way. These students proved that it is possible to have fun while helping people and taking sustainability action.

The group also branched out to tackle other global issues. They worked with a local refugee charity, Aid Box Community, to support the local refugee population. These collaborative efforts were supported through Bristol Hub. The Hub helps to coordinate student volunteering, conferences, charity, communication and training for positive impacts.

We caught up with Rosy in Spring 2021, and she shared how her engagement with Just Eat It shaped her career and life after leaving Bristol University. She worked for several years as an environmental consultant focussing on waste and resources policy. Her projects included advising the European Commission on biodegradable plastic policies, and modelling the environmental impact of waste collections across Europe. “I’m now taking a break from consultancy and studying for an MSc in Sustainable Food!” she told us. “When I finish I’m hoping to stay researching food sustainability, either in academia or back in consultancy. Working on the Just Eat It project certainly influenced my path a lot, from focussing on waste to now studying a broader view of food sustainability.”

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