How do you stop perfectly edible food going to waste? With disco, of course! Alexi Duggins meets the Londoners turning leftovers into dancefloor fuel. Photography Jack Latimer
Leftovers for dinner: it’s not a phrase that’s synonymous with ‘Friday night party time’. But then, reusing food doesn’t usually involve giant speakers crunking out funk. And I can count on one finger the number of times that a human carrot has got jiggy round my food-prep area, hotly pursued by a giant pig lady.
And yet, this is the story at Disco Soup. Since January, anti-food-waste campaign group Feedback has been helping collect the perfectly edible produce that shops discard. Then they book DJs and hold a party that turns the food into a free meal. Guests ‘chop to the beat’ in a mass cook-up while they drink BYO booze. Some turn up in food-themed fancy dress. Then, after eating, shit gets wild.
‘We had crowd-surfing at the last event,’ says Dominika Jarosz, the event’s co-ordinator. ‘This is a worthy event, but we want it to be as fun and as real as possible.’ Looking around tonight’s enthusiastic participants, they’re doing pretty well.
Our chopping area is outside Dalston’s Save the Date cafe – Disco Soup travels from venue to venue – and it’s raining hard. Despite sheets of water cascading from the edge of a hastily erected marquee, a couple of hundred people are chirpily scrubbing spuds, slicing shallots and slugging back pints of craft ale. Others are gently bopping to Curtis Mayfield. Disco balls hang overhead. There’s a fun communal atmosphere that’s part house party, part Glastonbury. Here the headliners don’t recycle riffs, though. They recycle unloved carrots.
‘This pot’s so big I could cook you in it!’ says tonight’s head chef James Smart, cook/co-ordinator of Save the Date. He’s in the kitchen struggling with the logistics of catering for 150 people. Namely, handling a saucepan so vast he’s having to stand on a packing crate to see in. ‘It’s so full that stirring it is bending the spoon!’
There’s no danger of the food running out. ‘Save the Date take 1.2 tons of veg from New Covent Garden market weekly,’ says Smart. ‘Nando’s gives us 150 kilos of chicken.’ In a backroom, 60 chocolate muffins share a crate with heaps of Danish pastries. Two huge lemon cheesecakes balance atop ginormous boxes of mushrooms, cabbages and enough artisanal ciabatta to nuke the low-carb diets of 500 Primrose Hill residents.
Amazingly, no one takes it for granted. Green Thai curries are wolfed down. Tomato salads are gobbled up. Chicken stews vanish in minutes. But the scoffing’s punctuated by diners’ earnest chat about how much grub is binned by supermarket chains. ‘Did I tell you about all those muffins I reclaimed from Lidl?’ says one. ‘I love the soul of this project!’ yells someone from the dancefloor.
Then, suddenly, it all goes quiet. The music stops to enable two fancy-dress-clad organisers to make a speech. A human strawberry thanks everyone for coming. Then the giant pig lady announces dessert, a bassline rumbles into life, and a funky Latino version of ‘Gangsta’s Paradise’ booms out as cakes are served and a petition against food waste is passed from hand to hand.
Is it a party? A meal? A rally? I’m not sure what to call it. Whatever, it’s certainly food for thought.
The next Disco Soup is at Mazenod Social Club, NW6 4LS, on Mar 2 at 6pm. For more info, visit feedbackglobal.org/events.
Other Londoners making the most of food waste
A pay-what-you-feel Dalston café cooking meals from food waste. Also an ‘egalitarian eatery’ which feeds the homeless.
This 100-strong group picks 1.5 tons of fruit from back gardens and gives it to schools and community groups.
They don’t just turn unwanted grub into meals. They’ve even got a bike-powered mobile kitchen. That’s recycling.