‘Pay what you feel’: the supermarket giving wasted food new life | Environment


A man places his shopping bag on the counter filled with canned goods, fruit, vegetables and a loaf of bread. He passes it to a woman, who weighs the bag, while her colleague makes a note on a clipboard. Then they wish him luck.

“Come back soon,” 19-year-old Vincent Hui tells him. No money changes hands. Asked why he had come to the shop, the man tells Guardian Australia: “Some days are just tough.”

Welcome to the Inconvenience Store, a “pay-what-you-feel” supermarket in Melbourne’s inner north. The project, started by the non-profit social enterprise Lentil As Anything, is the second of its kind in Australia after Sydney’s OzHarvest Market, which opened last year.

“The idea is to do something about food waste, and also to get food to people who need it in Melbourne,” the coordinator, Astrid Ryan, says. “Fresh fruit and vegetables are not something people in financial difficulty often have access to.”

Much of the produce has already made its way out the door when Guardian Australia visits at 1.30pm on a Friday. Big baskets filled with pears, oranges and tomatoes have been stuffed into shopping bags, weighed and taken to a home, possibly one with an otherwise bare pantry.

Organisers say the project aims to reduce the amount of food waste in the local area.

Inconvenience Store organisers say the project aims to reduce the amount of food waste in the local area. Photograph: The Guardian

The produce comes from supermarkets, including Coles and Aldi, and the nearby Preston market, according to Ryan. She adds that local grocers have been keen to help out. The project has also partnered with the food rescue charity SecondBite.

“For them, they’ll either be throwing it out or seeing it being eaten by people who want it,” she says.

Some customers who are passionate about cutting down on food waste but have the money to shop elsewhere pop a donation into a box as they leave. Others who are doing it tough are welcome to take the food they need without paying.

One of those people is Mary, a disability worker who is also volunteering behind the counter when Guardian Australia visits.

“I’m here because my job finished on Monday,” says Mary, who does not want her surname used because she has recently fled a violent relationship. “I came today to get some groceries because I don’t know how long I’ll be out of a job for.”

In the corner of the shop, Pamela Marentis, 65, picks up two loaves of bread. She says reducing food waste is important to her, and she is not fazed by the prospect of bread that isn’t fresh.

“I don’t mind. It’s not stale and I know how to bring bread back to life if it is,” she says. That means steaming it. “The steam comes up, and it’s like the bread has just been made.”

Inconvenience Store shoppers are encouraged to try bread donated by local bakers with homemade spreads.

Inconvenience Store shoppers are encouraged to try bread donated by local bakers with homemade spreads. Photograph: Luke Henriques-Gomes for the Guardian

Gloria Melo, 56, is visiting her son from Colombia. He took her to Lentil As Anything, the adjoining “pay-what-you-feel” restaurant. She was so taken by the concept she decided to volunteer at its newest social enterprise.

“I’m very happy to help,” she says. “There’s a social value in helping people who need it. If they’re in difficult economic circumstances, they can count on this place. We’re all a family.”

Ryan says she already has ambitions for the supermarket to expand. A large white container hidden in the corner of the room will soon be filled with frozen goods.

But her biggest hope is that it will make people more conscious about the problem of food waste.

“When you go to a supermarket, don’t just go for the perfect one. Take the bruised one,” she says. “All you have to do is cut it out and it’s perfectly good. If you don’t it will get thrown out.”

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