If you live in Leeds, you’ll probably be aware that we’re in week 2 of Leeds Indie Food Festival – a celebration of our city’s amazing independent food and drink businesses.
What I think makes the festival interesting is that it’s all about collaboration. It’s not just about a restaurant or bar putting on an event themselves. It’s much more about local businesses teaming up to run special events – chefs collaborating on one-off menus, that kind of thing. That makes things interesting for customers – but also helps to build the kind of network that makes the local food scene stronger, and Leeds a more interesting place to live in and visit.
And from my perspective, an even more interesting theme this year has been around sustainability.
I was part of a panel discussion at the launch of the Festival, and I was amazed at the level of engagement of people who were there, on issues such as food packaging and food waste. I think if we can act collectively on these issues we can really make progress in Leeds – and the network of food and drink businesses that make up #LIF18 is a great place to start. Through Zero Waste Leeds, we’d love to help wherever we can.
You might have picked up a LIF18 brochure if you’ve been out and about in Leeds. And you may have spotted an article I wrote exploring this issue in a bit more detail. If you haven’t seen it, here it is.
I’d like to think David Attenborough is a fan of decent street food. And my guess is, if he found himself in Leeds, he’d head straight for Manjit’s Kitchen.
A man so well travelled would instinctively seek out the market. He knows he’d get good value and he knows he’d find local flavour. He’d do right seeking out Manjit.
But there’s probably more to it than that. He’s recently pretty much given up on meat, so he’d be alright there. And once he’d chosen from the menu, his eye would probably turn to the packaging – was there any sign of plastic?
But he’d be fine there too. Like so many of Leeds’ indie food businesses, Manjit’s on top of this, with compostable straws, cutlery and takeaway packaging. Not to mention the stainless steel thali dishes for your curries, and, of course, proper glasses for your beer.
It’s fair to say David Attenborough is responsible for one of the most dramatic shifts in public opinion that I’ve witnessed in my lifetime.
Blue Planet II has brought the issue of plastic packaging waste into the mainstream. Some early adopters – like many in the street food scene – have been on top of this for a few years now. But most people weren’t that bothered. They are now.
This shift presents all sorts of opportunities for Leeds indie businesses. Informed consumers will seek out traders who are doing the right thing – replacing single-use plastics with compostable, biodegradable or recyclable packaging. They’ll stay loyal to people who they see making an effort – and increasingly they’ll avoid those who aren’t.
There are other opportunities too. Refill – a scheme that started in Bristol to encourage cafes to promote the fact they’re happy to fill up your water bottle – is going national this year. We’ve been working with local campaigners Refill Horsforth, and city centre café The Greedy Pig, to get things going in Leeds – so that we can help to cut down on the number of single-use plastic bottles we get through in Leeds.
We’re looking at other ideas too – such as a new initiative called Cup Club – where reusable coffee cups can be used – then dropped back for washing – at various venues across a city.
And of course, packaging waste isn’t the only issue. Food waste is, if anything, an even more pressing concern. Through the pioneering work of The Real Junk Food Project, Leeds can rightly boast of being a city that’s leading the way on tackling food waste. Junk Food Cafes have now sprung up all over the world, and thousands of children, in Leeds and beyond, enjoy free breakfasts every day thanks to Real Junk Food’s sister project Fuel For School.
Needless to say, you can get a taste of all of this during the Festival. The Real Junk Food Emporium supermarket will be in the centre of Leeds throughout May – redistributing on a Pay As You Feel basis food that would otherwise go to waste – and they’re also hosting three 5-course bistro nights. Meanwhile, Hyde Park Book Club have joined forces with neighbours Rainbow Junktion to explore issues around food waste over bowls of ramen – made – of course – from salvaged ingredients.
If we’re going to tackle social issues as challenging as packaging waste or food waste, we need to get creative. And that’s where the Leeds indie food scene has a vital role to play. People don’t respond well to being lectured, and whilst many may want to consume more responsibly, they’d prefer not to compromise on the quality of the experience that they enjoy.
Indie businesses, working creatively, and engaging their customers in what they’re doing, can lead the way on stuff like this. The Festival gives us a great opportunity to showcase what’s already happening – whilst giving us the chance to think about what more we could do as a city.