Ever since I first saw Josephine’s Liang’s shots of mouthwatering meals made entirely from food diverted from landfill, I knew this was someone I would love to do lunch with one day. Josephine sources everything she eats from yellow-label, about-to-be-thrown-out supermarket food, and surplus food collected from cafes, restaurants and shops using apps like Olio and Too Good to Go. She then posts shots of her scrumptious-looking finds on her Instagram feed.
So we arrange to meet, choosing our venue by scrolling through the list of available meals on the Too Good to Go app and picking the one that looks the tastiest. Over delicious broccoli and cauliflower gratin with sweet potato, tofu and brown rice (£3, the cafe was happy to serve me in my own tin) Josephine tells me more about herself and her mission.
‘My initial goal was to do just one month, where every single thing that I eat is going to be discarded. It’s a fun thing to do. I wanted to show people that there is a giant variety, a great quantity of food that is being wasted. You need to take some very very simple steps – and anyone can do them – to try to reduce a little bit.’
‘I wanted to show people that there is a giant variety, a great quantity of food that is being wasted.’
‘I get a lot of my fruit and veg from a wholesale market. I’ve become good friends with the traders. I’ll ask if I can take away a packet of oranges – if they’re going to throw it away, they’re usually fine with it. The thing you need to know is, that most people who work in food don’t want to waste food.’
It’s true, now she mentions it, I notice that the woman who served us in the cafe is very encouraging and offers us more tips on sourcing surplus food.
‘I shop yellow labels, I think this is the easiest thing people can do. I do that a lot, because if you don’t buy it, they’re going to throw it away. Then I use two apps, which are Olio and Too Good to Go, which are amazing. It’s really fun to see the city that way – you go to places you never thought you’d go, and you meet people you never thought you’d cross paths with.’
‘It’s really fun to see the city that way – you go to places you never thought you’d go, and you meet people you never thought you’d cross paths with.‘
‘I source of all my food that way. I do most of my collecting on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. But I don’t think everyone needs to do all that I’m doing. My point is that you can do something. If everyone does a little bit, that’s already a big relief. If anyone has this awareness, this kind of attention, then you can put pressure on the supermarkets to do better with their policies. You can put pressure on the government to change the way they operate.
‘I don’t think everyone needs to do all that I’m doing…………if everyone does a little bit, that’s already a big relief.’
‘We’re facing a global food crisis, ‘ she explains. ‘In 2050 we’ll have 9 billion people, and we need to increase our production by 60-70%, and we don’t have that capacity. So another way to do that is to have a system where food is more circular, where food is not being wasted at every single stage. Around a third of food produced is wasted. Right now, we produce enough food to feed everyone, we just don’t distribute it accordingly.’
‘We cooked a meal for 15 people once, just with surplus food we collected from the market…..we had a tagine, cous cous, salad, banana bread……it was a lot of joy. My really happy surplus stories have been being able to share with a lot of friends. One time, we got wine on yellow label. That was delightful.’
‘One time, we got wine on yellow label. That was delightful.’
‘It’s about learning what your local markets are, and making friends with the people who work there. Ask them, ‘So what time are you putting out the yellow labels?’ They will tell you. They don’t want to throw away the food, because they work with food. I find if you ask someone who looks like a mum, they’ll know. I have many aunties, who are just like, ‘Yeah, come at 6.’
Feeling inspired by our conversation, I head to the supermarket to see what yellow label goodies I can find. It’s only 7pm and there’s already a selection. I pick up some posh cheese, half price, with a sell-by date of today and a use-by date of 4 days’ time. I also pick up 8 pints worth of milk for 20p. The use by date is today, but it will freeze. I make sure to check out the wine section, but there’s nothing on offer at this visit. The shop assistant tells me the best time to come for yellow label discounts is at 8.
The next day I make my sandwiches with the rescued cheese and some tomato chutney my housemate no longer wanted. I think I’m getting the hang of this.