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Turning Real Junk Food Into Good, Healthy Meals

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Corin Bell doesn’t care for money. She paid for her latest haircut with £15-worth of food and her website bill was settled in cake.

“United Utilities aren’t having any of it,” she jokes as we finish up our cover shoot in Manchester’s Northern Quarter, “but it’s amazing how many people are up for bartering, or paying for things in different ways. Food is such a basic need. Most of the money we give to other people is used to pay for basics and there’s so much food wasted, why not just use that instead?”

“If you hadn’t already guessed, Corin takes sustainability seriously. As well as heading Manchester’s Real Junk Food Project (RJFP), she’s a trustee at the Real Junk Food Charitable Foundation, which launched towards the end of last year and supports sustainable and food waste projects across the UK.

There are already more than 100 Real Junk Food projects around the country. To join the network, a project must have a food waste element and also a pay-as-you-feel option. Some only use a small amount of waste and serve it as a pay-as you-feel-special. But the practice is catching on. One bar in Manchester wants Corin to find waste fruit so they can make smoothies and return the profits to the RJFP.” says

Picture by Jon Super for The Guardian newspaper. Picture fao Joanna Witt. Picture shows Corin Bell Director of The Real Junk Food Project, Manchester , 15 June, 2015 (Photo/Jon Super 07974 356-333)

But the foundation is not only about helping local projects. “Part of it is to offer support for people trying to set up food projects, but the other side is a campaigning arm to reduce food waste and food poverty,” says Corin. “We source food waste from everywhere and we’re now taking on the big boys. We’re talking to the Co-Op, Waitrose and Ocado,” says Corin.

Part of the problem is getting people to understand exactly what the foundation is trying to do. “It’s about talking to food businesses in their own language. I’ve been called a mentalist and a thief but that’s because a lot of people don’t understand what we’re about,” she says.

“When we talk about food waste, some businesses think we’re talking about scraps and peelings. Some use the word surplus. A lot of people who work in large organisations are confused about the law around food and what’s simply company policy – it’s not illegal to give away food that is past its best-before date.”

On top of this, businesses hate running out of food. “Part of catering is overcatering. If a restaurant runs out of food, there’s a feeling that it’s failed,” says Corin. “No one thinks about the food that’s left over. Street vendors can be very weather dependent, which can lead to a lot of wastage and producer markets waste food on a stupid scale.”

“The first Real Junk Food cafe was set up in Leeds by chef Adam Smith, who was astounded by the amount of farm waste on a trip to Australia. Back in the UK, he launched a pop-up cafe collecting surplus food from restaurants, supermarkets and hotels and turning it into nutritious dishes for people in need – who could either eat for free or pay what they could afford (pay as you feel). His cafe in Armley started opening regularly from December 2013.

At the time Corin, who is now 34, was working for the Gleaning Network in Manchester, salvaging food destined to go to waste from farms and distributing it to local charities. She went to visit Adam and, although she’d seen lots of sustainability projects, there was something about the mix of elements in Adam’s set-up that felt right for her.” said says

“I emailed Adam and said I’d like to do something in similar in Manchester,” she says. “I wanted to know whether he was happy for me to use the Real Junk Food Project name. I still have his reply – it just said YES and NOW with lots of exclamation marks.”


“The movement has grown organically. “People want a business model but Adam has resisted pressure and just let it happen naturally,” says Corin. “People get in touch with him saying they want to do something similar and he gives them advice.”

Corin feels the tide is turning. People are less scared of being sued. “Our biggest success story is Nando’s. There’s a great guy there called Bob who is helping some of our local projects.”

There’s no doubt the Real Junk Food network is growing. There’s one project in London, seven in Leeds, two in Bristol, one in Leicester and new projects launching in Edinburgh and north Wales. There are even a few abroad (one in the south of France, one in Cape Town and one in Victoria, Australia).” said

“It’s less about the locations and more about the people,” says Corin. “We’re all lunatics. Adam has like three days off a year, myself, Sam (Joseph) who runs Skipchen in Bristol and Duncan (Milwain) who runs the Saltaire Canteen in Bradford – we’re all mad and working all hours.”

As such, Corin seems to live off caffeine, shooting from coffee shop to warehouse to kitchen table for meetings with fellow campaigners. “l’m not interested in money,” she says. “I earn very little but I’d rather spend time doing something I’m really interested in – and that’s fun.”

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“Turning Real Junk Food Into Good, Healthy Meals”