It’s official, we’re a country of wasters. Each year, UK households throw away 4.4m tonnes of food, worth around £13bn. One initiative, Real Junk Food Manchester, is hoping to change that. And even better news is that they are opening their first cafe on Manchester’s Oxford Street.
The concept for the cafe is simple, the guys behind Real Junk Food Manchester collect perfectly edible food which would otherwise go to waste, and the clever chefs behind the scheme use their creativity to concoct some truly great (and nutritious) meals.
Real Junk Food Manchester originally began in 2014 with just a few volunteers, headed up by Corin Bell. Getting waste food from wholesalers, supermarkets and food delivery companies like Ocado, the group have been hosting stalls and pop events for some time now. From festivals to birthdays, the team have catered for all kinds of events on a huge scale. And without buying a single ingredient, it can come with its challenges.
Last summer they were hired to cater for their first ever wedding, prepping for three days prior to the event. “We even baked the wedding cake. We don’t buy things like oil, flour, salt or sugar, so that is a bit nerve racking as it’s a big responsibility,” says Corin. But no matter what ingredients they have on hand, Corin and her team work hard to ensure they always provide a tasty and nutritious meal. “It would have to be a ridiculous set of circumstances that meant we didn’t get a meal out to people,” says Corin. “It’s great to have brilliant chefs who come in at 9am in the morning, ask what food they have to work with and then make dinner for 70 people that night. They’re not easily stressed thankfully and they never lose their cool.”
While the new site will offer pop-up events as well, the main focus is going to start with offering breakfast and lunch five days a week, and then move on to regular a la carte evening events. “Some of those will be about us cooking and some will hopefully be about inviting chef teams from other Manchester restaurant’s to play Ready Steady Cook with waste food ingredients.”
With the aim of providing meals that are accessible for everyone, the project operates on a pay-as-you-feel basis. “If that means you pay nothing then that’s fine, but it also means that if you leave us £10,000 then that’s really fine too,” says Corin. The great thing about this kind of model is that there is no segregation between customers. No matter what you can afford to pay, everyone can eat together. “As more people become reliant on food banks, we just wanted to do something that meant everyone could stick together.”
Given that food waste is so rife throughout the country, it’s not usually a struggle for the team to find the food they need. Although that wasn’t always the case. “I think it’s a lot easier now than when we started, over the last few years, the landscape around food waste has definitely changed,” says Corin. “We started off thinking that we wouldn’t be able to get any food, but now my main concern is how we’re going to get people past the idea that the answer to food waste is to give it to the community and charity sector”
“The short term mission for us is ‘feed bellies, not bins’. But long term, the mission is to basically do ourselves out of a job by fixing the food system so we’re no longer needed,” explains Corin. As a country we constantly overproduce food. Whether it’s wholesalers, supermarkets, or ourselves as consumers, we are all guilty of buying too much food and not using it all.
While it’s great to see initiatives like Real Junk Food Manchester making sure that food doesn’t go to waste, Corin has concerns about this becoming the norm. “The danger now is that people see this food waste and that there are people who are going hungry and just apply one problem to the other. But actually the environmental and social impacts of having a hugely wasteful system that means that we’re paying for that food waste, as it inflates food prices.”
Real Junk Food Manchester is hoping to make the most of their new location, tapping into a whole new audience on Manchester’s busy Oxford Road area. “To have the opportunity to bring the project to such a huge number of people is just fantastic.” Make sure to pop down for a visit this week as Real Junk Food Manchester opens today (Tuesday 5th September).