The Big Challenge: Serving up some food for thought in Sheffield

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“Someone once said to me that Sheffield is a place where you can start or create anything, and they were right,” said Josephine Hercberg, director of the Real Junk Food Project in the city.

And Josephine has plenty of experience in starting schemes, having just helped to set up the Sharehouse Market in Pitsmoor, a novel ‘pay as you feel’ food outlet.

The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield directors Rene Meijer and Jo Hercberg with some of the products available at the Share Market

The Real Junk Food Project Sheffield directors Rene Meijer and Jo Hercberg with some of the products available at the Share Market

Customers at the market offer as much as they feel items are worth, providing a lifeline to people feeling the effects of austerity and struggling with the ever-increasing cost of living.

Josephine has lived in Sheffield for 16 years and said the regeneration she has seen in that time has been ‘wonderful’.

“Compared to other cities, we may not be a shopping destination but that’s what makes Sheffield unique. The independent businesses and creative industries make Sheffield a wonderful city to live in.”

She said she thought the drive to become the country’s premier ‘outdoor city’ was a ‘brilliant initiative’.

We have a lot of social reach and see people in really desperate circumstances

“Anything that encourages people to become active and makes access to activities clearly available for all can only be a good thing.”

But she added: “From a personal perspective I am put off cycling in Sheffield due to the lack of bike lanes and the hills. Unless you have a fair amount of fitness already, cycling home from the centre can be a daunting prospect. More joined-up cycle-only paths would help, they seem to just stop in some locations and you find yourself in a bus lane. I really don’t know how becoming a truly cycle-friendly could be achieved without rethinking the whole transport network for Sheffield.”

Improving access for bike riders would help Sheffield to cut air pollution, along with stopping tree felling and installing more electric vehicle charging points.

“We have an electric van and trying to charge it in the city is very difficult, there are only a handful of charging places available and these are often in use. If Sheffield is committed to improving air quality then investing in improvements to the charging network are vital.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

Steeple Corner Cafe, a project turning junk food into pay as you feel meals has opened on Stafford Road.

“Sheffield recently lost out to funding for these improvements to other cities as the plans weren’t ambitious enough.”

In a perfect world Josephine would cut inequality at a stroke.

“The ever-expanding differences between the richest and poorest in this country is awful. Although we’re a food waste and environmentally-focused campaign we have a lot of social reach and see people in really desperate circumstances.

“We should all try to be less wasteful in our lives, buy only what we need and try to reduce consumerism. Perhaps I’m a bit of an idealist but small things like shopping in a local greengrocer who doesn’t use plastic packaging and spending your money ethically can make a huge difference.

The Real Junk Food Project, Sharrow.

The Real Junk Food Project, Sharrow.

“Sheffield is a friendly city and people seem proud of its heritage and unique location close to a National Park. There are also a lot of active citizens who seem engaged in changing things for the better.

“It would be wonderful if this people power could be harnessed to get behind a variety of environmental issues, including reducing food waste.”

Josephine is an enthusiastic supporter of local producers – “Anything from Mr Pickles’, Forge Bakehouse and the beers produced by Sentinel are wonderful,” she enthused – and also takes pride in Real Junk Food’s achievements, such as ‘feeding the whole crew of Tramlines 2016 over a week’.

“That was certainly a highlight for us last year, as was opening Steeple Corner Cafe and the Sharehouse Market over Christmas.

“This year we will continue to use perfectly edible wasted food to feed bellies and not bins in our Steeple Corner Cafe, and will look to work with more community organisations to bring cafes to different locations.

“Our Fuel For School programme will expand into more primary schools across Sheffield and we’ll start working with every food business in Sheffield.”

n Visit https://realjunkfoodsheffield.com for details.