A restaurant in Manchester serves meals made from food saved from the trash.
This UK startup turns food waste into fine dining
Food waste, for all of the legitimate concern over carbon emissions, waste management and negative economic impact it creates, also provides opportunity. That’s the story behind startups like Real Junk Food Manchester, a restaurant that serves meals made from food that’s been saved from the trash.
At street level, the British eatery looks just like any other restaurant – in fact, it’s a pretty upscale feel, with a stone façade and arched entrance not far from local gallery, theater and music venues. There’s a main floor open for lunch on weekdays, and a lower level for fine dining on Thursday through Saturday nights. As for prices, guests pay what they want; that’s where a different kind of story starts.
The Real Junk Food restaurant was launched by Corin Bell in 2017, and follows on a model from the British city of Leeds. The team connects with produce wholesalers who are overstocked, and grocery stores where the clock’s ticking on still-safe and nutritious fresh foods. They work with other farms and food businesses too, rescuing whatever they can’t sell or use before turning the ingredients into an eclectic and ever-changing menu.
The idea was meant to be a short-term pop-up shop, but it turned out that the community loved it.
What they’re serving is part social justice, part community health and all environment. “For every ton of food that we save from going to waste, we save about 4.2 tons of CO2 from being emitted, and around 10 percent of the UK’s carbon footprint comes from food that is never eaten,” the restaurant explains.
While Real Junk Food Manchester serves people in need, they don’t differentiate between customers living in poverty who are hungry and the more affluent clientele that comes in. “This is a conscious choice to work against the unfortunate consequence of a food bank model, where the poorest and most vulnerable in our society are segregated, often being offered little dignity or choice,” the team explains.
Nor do they draw distinctions among their staff and volunteers. The general manager worked in the French Alps, managing a café and chalets before turning his talents toward Manchester. The front-house manager is a musician who traveled to India, Thailand and Mexico. and was troubled by food waste as well as plastic pollution and other environmental costs that come from throwing stuff away. The head chef has seven years of experience, and behind them all are the volunteers who make it work.
So there’s a lot of talent and a lot of challenge, especially for a kitchen that has to shift gears every day depending on what their ingredient mix is. Now they’re ready for a few new recipes: Real Junk Food Manchester announced it’s planning a catering business to open in September. They’ll be working in partnership with job training programs to help workers get experience in the hospitality industry. The new vision will mean moving to another location, but they’ve promised they won’t leave their loyal Mancunians without a waste food lunch.