Food waste is a serious issue in North America, and increasingly around. The average Canadian household throws away nearly one third of the food they buy for a variety of reasons: they bought more than they need, they don’t know how to preserve foods to prevent spoilage, or they are overly cautious and dispose of safe foods that appear past their prime. Food is not only wasted at the household level, but all along the supply chain: from imperfect fruits and vegetables being left to rot in fields to grocery stores ordering more than they expect to sell so customers don’t see empty shelves. In addition, many edible and nutritious items such as beet greens or meats like tripe and liver go to waste due to seemingly abundant other options and lack of food preparation knowledge. This food mismanagement wastes the resources that go into growing and transporting food, stresses the environment, and perpetuates hunger.
Luckily, public awareness of food waste has been increasing and a variety of policies and organizations have been created to address the problem on all levels. Some focus on removing food from the waste stream and making sure it gets to people: organizations like Second Harvest, which provides hunger programs with surplus produce from grocery stores, or Not Far From the Tree, which picks and distributes unwanted residential fruit. Other programs focus on preventing waste in the first place, one example being a new Ontario policy which allows lower-grade fruits and vegetables to be distributed by food banks, where before they would be ploughed under in the fields. There are also individuals who take the approach of eating food that has already been wasted, as in the case of gleaners, who pick over farmers’ fields after the harvest, or Freegans, who live off of food thrown away by bakers, greengrocers, and supermarkets. Whatever form it may take, people are pushing back against the tendency to waste food, and in so doing are finding new ways to fight hunger and re-imagine the food system.
Organizations & Websites
Community Harvest Ontario – the goal of this program is to increase the quantity of fresh, local, healthy foods distributed to food banks across the province. CHO connects with farmers to acquire the product that can not make it to market for cosmetic reasons such as size or colour, works with farmers across Ontario to plant crops specifically for their local and area food banks, and connects volunteer groups with farms that have surplus produce in their fields.
Food Not Bombs – uses gleaned produce to prepare vegan meals for the hungry.
Green Bin Info – information about the green bin program, accepted and prohibited items, and where the compost goes.
Not Far From the Tree – residential fruit tree gleaning program that shares harvest between volunteers, homeowners, and hunger groups.
Second Harvest – collects surplus produce from grocers and distributes it to hunger programs.
Still Tasty – provides simple information on how long food will stay safe and the best way to store it, and has an iPhone app to use for your own groceries.
York Region Fresh Food Partners Gleaning Program – organizes gleaning outings to nearby farmers’ fields.
Love Food Hate Waste – campaign to reduce food waste by engaging in public food education.
WRAP – organization that works to help businesses and individuals reap the benefits of reducing waste, develop sustainable products, and use resources in an efficient way.
Cutting Food Waste – green living tips on how to reduce food waste from farm to fridge.
Food Waste: An Unappetizing, $27B Problem – the current food waste situation in Canada and some possible solutions (Toronto Star, 2011).
Food Waste has Environmental Impact – linking food waste to greenhouse gas emissions (CBC, 2009).
How We Waste Food – facts and issues about wasted food in Toronto (Toronto Star, 2008).
Waste: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal – Tristram Stuart
What a Waste – Nancy Macdonald’s exposé of food waste across Canada (Macleans, 2009).
DIVE – film on Freeganism and food waste in the United States.
The Gleaners and I – film on gleaning and Freeganism in France.