‘The food is free’: New market opens to battle food waste.

Forget the price tag: ‘pay what you feel’ that tomato is worth.

If there were no price tags at the supermarket, do you reckon you could guess the value of a bag of potatoes or a packet of rice?

That’s what you will have to do at a new Thornbury grocery, where customers will name their own price for their goods.

Called The Inconvenience Store, and claiming to be a Victorian first, it will be staffed by volunteers and stocked with food ‘‘rescued’’ from supermarkets and markets.

It opened behind the Lentil As Anything restaurant in High Street on July 8.

For the past 18 years, Lentil as Anything has run volunteer-operated restaurants that ask customers to ‘’pay as they feel’’.

It’s now using the concept for groceries.

Fighting food waste while you’re shopping: Project manager Astrid Ryan at the doors to The Inconvenience Store behind the Lentil As Anything restaurant in Thornbury. Photo: Justin McManus.

The Inconvenience Store project manager Astrid Ryan doesn’t think people will cheat.

I think that when you put trust in people, they do the right thing and that’s why ‘Lentils’ works,” she says.

When they understand we’re trying to do something for the community’s benefit they’ll support us.”

She believes most customers would have ‘‘a general idea’’ of what, say, a bag of potatoes was worth.

But if they felt challenged, that would help them not to mindlessly consume.

‘‘You’ll have to actually think about what you’re buying and what it’s worth.’’

The shop is called The Inconvenience Store as a comment on the food industry.

‘‘Everything is about convenience and ease,’’ Ms Ryan says. ‘‘People are disengaged with where their food is coming from.

‘‘We’re valuing our food less, and that’s why there’s such a problem with food waste.

If an apple has a bruise on it, it’s not convenient for us to cut out a little bit before we eat it, so we go for the perfect apple and those other apples get thrown out.’’

Asked whether most people would choose a low price, she said the success of Lentil As Anything’s eateries had proved the business could sustain both ‘‘people who appreciate the idea and can pay’’ and ‘‘people in need who cannot pay’’.

People short on funds can choose to volunteer in the shop or the restaurant, but there is no pressure to pay even a small amount.

Price tag-free zone: Customers check out a trial run of the pay as you feel supermarket The Inconvenience store in early June. Photo: Lentil As Anything.

‘‘The idea is that the food is accessible to people who may be in need or in may be in a financial crisis, and we don’t want to put any shame or pressure on people who cannot donate at this time.’’

To stock the store, volunteers will collect vegetables, fruit, bread and other goods such as rice, coconut water and spices that supermarkets discard, often because of minor flaws.

A trial stall at the Thornbury ”Lentil” restaurant on June 3 was a success.

‘‘Everybody thought it was an amazing idea,” Ms Ryan says.

They hadn’t seen anything like it before. People were like, ‘oh, so I can choose what I want to pay?

‘‘It’s really interesting to see people’s reaction when you put the choice of how much to pay back into their hands. I guess it makes people engage a bit more, and think a bit more, about what they’re getting is worth.’’

She says shopping at the store will be ‘‘an act of social activism”.

Every food item taken home is one less methane-producing addition to landfill, and every dollar contributed will directly fund a community-based, volunteer-run food rescue charity.

‘‘We are inviting the community to shop consciously and be part of the solution. Fund communities, not corporations!’’

The above article by Carolyn Webb first published on goodfood.com.au in 2018.