Food truck breathes new life into leftovers and unloved wasteland

Summary

The Recup’Kitchen initiative in Schaarbeek offers vegetarian food made from supermarket leftovers, cooked by volunteers and sold at democratic prices

Creating a moment

The Josaphat goods station in Schaarbeek, named after the adjacent park, was closed in 1994. Since then, the 25-hectare site has been empty, while the owner, rail authority NMBS, cleaned the soil, and vague plans were drawn up for a new quarter featuring homes, shops and businesses.

Before the grasses took hold in the wake of the bulldozers, it became a desert, dust drifting across the Brussels-Vilvoorde railway line that divides the site in two.

But now the grasses – and a whole lot more – have moved in. A circus troupe has built a camp for its vehicles and equipment. A group of people have created a communal vegetable garden using containers (because the ground has not been cleaned to the level required for growing food). And now a mobile kitchen promises cheap and cheerful food made of products the supermarkets give away.

Recup’Kitchen is run by volunteers and aims to recover the results of the “over-estimation” of food, explains Hanne Van Reusel, a doctoral student in architecture at the University of Leuven, one of the main movers behind the project. “We give new life to fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away.”

Lots of support

The project is built on three pillars, she explains. “Sustainability and the fight against food waste. Solidarity – meals available at whatever price you can afford, allowing everyone to benefit. And the social aspect: cooking together and eating together, creating a moment when people can come together in a public space.”

The food comes from leftovers from market stalls, supermarkets and corner shops. It’s all vegetarian not only by principle but out of concern for food safety. But aren’t people put off by the idea of eating what would otherwise be waste?

“We’ve had no negative reactions so far,” Van Reusel says. “Of course we select food that’s still good, but which simply can’t be sold because of sell-by dates. In fact, we’ve had a lot of compliments about how tasty it all is. And it’s a free world: Anyone who doesn’t like the sound of recovered food is free to go and eat elsewhere.”

We give a new life to fruit and vegetables that would otherwise be thrown away

- Hanne Van Reusel

The kitchen is a converted caravan, obtained through crowdfunding. “The idea for the project came up more than a year ago, and we turned to crowdfunding to buy the wagon and equipment, but also for insurance and formalities of all sorts,” she explains.

That appeal ran from November to February. “It was great to see how much support we received. We asked for €7,000, and we got more than €7,500 in the end. More than 125 people contributed.”

There remain, still, a number of formalities to be taken care of.  Starting any business involving food is a nightmare of paperwork, but using volunteers – and untrained ones at that – adds to the complex procedures.

“Right now we’re a non-profit, but we’ll have to see what structure we need to set up, and what the requirements are for food safety,” Van Reusel says. “We’re currently parked on the Josaphat site, but the idea is to travel out to other sites for events, and at that point we’ll need to apply for permits from whatever municipality is concerned. But we’ve had no obstacles put in our way so far.”

Recup’Kitchen serves food on the first Sunday of every month from noon, and drinks every third Sunday. For more events, see the website

Photo: Anna Schröder

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