The Real Junk Food Project Manchester: Creative chefs need apply for a unique opportunity
The Real Junk Food Project is a concept that started in Leeds with chef Adam Smith.
Having spent years working in high end restaurants, and seeing the level of beautiful food that goes to waste at every point in our food chain, Adam started a cafe in his home town of Armley, Leeds, sourcing food that would otherwise go to waste, cooking it up into awesome meals, and serving it to anyone and everyone, on a pay-as-you-feel basis.
"The Real Junk Food Project is a brilliant mix of grassroots practical action, supporting people in need, and constant campaigning"
I met Adam in April 2014, I’d been working on food waste and food poverty projects for a few years, and the mix of elements in the model that The Real Junk Food Project had developed really struck me - they were on to something.
The Real Junk Food Project is a brilliant mix of grassroots practical action, supporting people in need, and constant campaigning. We work with wholesalers, supermarkets, restaurants, cafes and any other food business to intercept food that would go to waste.
"We only ever use 100% food that would go to waste - no exceptions!"
So far in Manchester we’ve been running pop-up events and serving healthy nutritious meals to a huge range of audiences.
We work with local homelessness support groups to provide hot meals to people sleeping rough, and we’ve even catered for senior EU politicians. The quality of the food doesn’t change from one group to another, and we only ever use 100% food that would go to waste - no exceptions.
A lot of people assume that because food, particularly things like fresh vegetables and fruits, are natural products, they would have less of an impact on the environment, almost the opposite is true.
"In the UK around 6 million people are in poverty so deep that they struggle to afford enough food"
Food rotting in landfill releases huge amounts of methane into the atmosphere, which has 25 times the warming effect on our climate as CO2. And the scale of the problem is out of control, it is currently estimated that around 15 million tonnes of food goes to waste in the UK alone every year, with the figure globally at around 1.3 billion tonnes.
These facts in and of themselves are shocking, but when you sit them alongside the fact that in the UK around 6 million people are in poverty so deep that they struggle to afford enough food, never mind a healthy nutritious diet that includes fresh vegetables and fruits, it really highlights just how senseless wasting food is.
So whats the lowest carbon thing you can possibly do with food that will go to waste? The answer is to put it in a belly, any belly, rather than a bin. And it doesn’t matter which bin it would have gone into either, putting food that would have gone to waste in a human belly has a lower carbon footprint than using it for animal feed, compost, landfill or using it for anaerobic digestion.
And just to fall off the sustainability thread for a second, we also happen to think it’s quite a nice thing to do - this feeding people lark.
The Real Junk Food Project serves absolutely all of its meals on a pay-as-you-feel basis, because we believe that everyone deserves good food.
The right to food has been recognised as a basic human right by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights since 1948, but you could be forgiven for being shocked by that given how our society treats its poorest and most vulnerable.
Having said that, The Real Junk Food Project is not a food bank. We’re fighting hard to buck the trend of economic segregation that we see as very dangerous - if you have money you go where you want, buy what you want, and eat what you want… if you don’t have money, you are sent somewhere separate, and you get what you’re given.
After a year of doing pop-up events, we’re taking the leap to open Manchester’s first 'waste food' restaurant. We aim to create a cool, city centre restaurant where people want to go, where all of the meals just happen to be made from food that would have been wasted, and just happen to be served on a pay-as-you-feel basis.
We’re currently in the process of installing a kitchen and building our restaurant at The Wonder Inn on shudehill.
"We haven’t quite upcycled the entire build...but we’re as close as we could get"
The Wonder Inn is a new creative wellness centre in the city centre, an amazing programme of alternative music, exhibitions, classes, courses, art and much more, and we’re delighted that they’re supporting the Real Junk Food Project by inviting us to take up a permanent space in the building.
When we decided to finally take the step and open a restaurant, there was really only one way we could do it. We decided to take the Real Junk Food model of taking food that would otherwise go to waste and doing something useful with it, and apply it to the whole project.
We haven’t quite upcycled the entire build (Environmental Health were surprisingly unsupportive of us cobbling together an extraction system out of old tin cans), but we’re as close as we could get.
Our commercial kitchen equipment has come from other restaurants refurbishments, it’s perfectly useable, just a few years old, our tables have been made from old pallets by amazing upcyclers, our lights are made from upcycled glass bottles and oil cans.
Our crockery and cutlery have been donated by amazing folks from around Manchester who were inspired by our twitter and Facebook posts - social media has been an amazing force to pull this all together.
As far as we can tell, we’re the closest to an 'utterly upcycled' restaurant that exists in the UK, but I’m still nervous about claiming that.
"The other thing we’re currently on the hunt for is an amazing head chef / creative genius"
We still need a few bits, so if you have any kitchen items going spare don’t be shy. We’re currently on the hunt for a few more cheese graters, not actually to grate cheese (that would be ridiculous), we’re going to make a string of cheese grater fairy lights, obviously.
The other thing we’re currently on the hunt for is an amazing head chef / creative genius. We’re looking for someone with a real knowledge and passion for food to take on what is essentially the biggest game of Ready, Steady, Cook the world has ever known.
In the right hands this is an amazingly creative job, so we’re looking for someone with a solid grounding of experience as a head chef, who’s ready to take on a new challenge.
We’re looking for someone with a flexible style who would be comfortable serving hearty healthy meals during the lunch service, and more a la carte and experimental dishes in the evening.
We have an advert on our website at the moment (closing date 26th Jan), and if the good people of Manchester can help us spread the word we’d be endlessly grateful.
Brilliant food waste author Michael Pollan once said:
"The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day, and every one of them has the potential to change the world.”
We hope you’ll join us in February (and every week after that) to vote with your fork for a sustainable, fair food future.
Discover more and keep up to date on The Real Junk Food Project Manchester website.
Contributed by Rebecca Lupton
Corin has worked in sustainability, with a focus on sustainable food and food waste, for a number of years. She started as a Project Manager for Environmental Strategy at Manchester City Council, and moved to freelance work at the start of 2011. Corin is a Trustee of the Real Junk Food Project Charitable Foundation, and acts as the Regional Coordinator for the North West, supporting food waste projects around the region. She has been a campaigner for Manchester Friends of the Earth, and a Co-ordinator for the UK Gleaning Network.