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The Real Junk Food Project on pay-as-you-feel meals and opening in Manchester

Vicky Barker

January inevitably involves paying for that seasonal glut back in December. Packed lunches made of healthy leftovers restore the waistline and the bank balance. Waste not want not, after all.

And that's exactly the ethos behind a new cafe that is opening its doors in Manchester City Centre next month.

Real Junk Food Project Manchester will open up in The Wonder Inn, near Shudehill. A day after it hosted delegates from the EU Committee of Regions to discuss all things food waste, Time Out went along to speak to the project's director Corin Bell, to discover more.

Hi Corin. Junk Food Cafe, sounds like our idea of heaven! What's different about what you're doing?

'Real Junk Food Project is all about serving up food that would have otherwise gone to waste. We're not talking about scrapings from people's plates and we're not talking about food that's mouldy. There is an amazing amount of perfectly edible food that gets wasted for the daftest of reasons that could be going in a human belly. We'll serve food on a pay-as-you-feel basis.'

You're due to open any week now. What's your routine like at the moment?

'It's random at the moment. Because we're not quite open yet, my days are crackers. There are some days I don't even come in and I just work from home. Alex our upcycler has got his own set of keys, and he'll be in here building furniture. At the moment when we have big events, we rent out some space in a big commercial kitchen in Trafford.'

Sounds hectic! Do you have other people helping you out?

'Yes. If you run a company, you are everything at first; from the director to the accountant. I'm also the cleaner and the delivery driver. But I think I'll get more people in as it gets bigger, so I don't try and do everything. I would like to have a core group of maybe two kitchen staff, because I'm not a chef. I'm not sure how many people will end up working here, but I know the project is always going to be run partly by volunteers. That's part of the pay-as-you-feel model - come and eat with us every day, but then pay us with your time.'

How do you go about getting your hands on food that other people have thrown away?

'We're quite successful in getting food to cook with. We get meat, cream, cheese, rice – all sorts of food from different sources. There is a restaurant in the city centre and one of the things they do is make their own bread. It is beautiful stuff, baked fresh every morning, but they don't use it the next day. So I've gone to them and said, 'totally understand what you guys are doing, but on day two the bread is still perfectly edible, so can I take it off your hands?'. And they've said to me, 'Yep great, do something useful with it'. It's great for toast and makes amazing bread and butter pudding.' 

Why are you so passionate about doing something about food waste?

'Because we are killing the planet growing food that we end up throwing away just because it is slightly the wrong shape or slightly the wrong colour, while six million people in this country live in poverty so deep that they can barely afford to eat. I just put those facts together and it doesn't fit in my head.' 

So Manchester has really got behind what you're trying to do?

'Of course. When we first did the shout out (for items to kit out the cafe) the response was amazing. I couldn't respond to people fast enough! I think the reason for that is because, economically, we are having a horrible time of it at the moment in this country. The economy has had a pinch, but we're all still being sold rubbish that we don't need.' 

What first inspired you to set up your own Real Junk food Project?

'I worked for the public sector for a number of years. My background is in environmental and sustainability projects. The Real Junk Food Project started in Leeds, so this is following their model. It was in April last year that someone told me about what they were doing in Leeds, so I went to visit the director Adam and just thought, 'this is it, this is brilliant'. So I got in touch with him and said look I really want to do something similar in Manchester, can I call it Real Junk Food Project Manchester. 

He sent me an email back and the response just read 'yes' and 'now' in capital letters. That was a year and a bit ago and then somehow we ended up in this crazy space building a restaurant.' 

Would you say you are ambitious?

'That's a nice way of putting it, I think mental is the word! I'm probably not ambitious in the traditional sense…  you know, money, cars that sort of thing. But I'm driven, I think. I just love doing this. I genuinely get up every morning and think there isn't a better job in the world than mine. I'm doing exactly what I want to do and it's not fast enough or big enough ever! I feel like I'm actually doing some good in the world.'

Real Junk Food Project Manchester will be open at The Wonder Inn, Shudehill, Manchester M4 2AF 

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