Surprisingly, our world produces plenty of food to go around. The problem is that far too much of it never reaches people who need it. Read about Canadian food rescuers and their efforts to combat food waste and hunger.
Charged with the task of developing a daily meal program for the 325 students at her sons’ school in Etobicoke, Ontario, Lori Nikkel soon discovered that her funding was sorely inadequate. “So we got creative,” Nikkel says. She and fellow volunteers asked local grocery stores and restaurants to donate food—items deemed too unattractive, too close to their best-before date, or simply too abundant to sell. The result? Enough food to feed all 325 kids for the entire school year, plus some to send home with families.
Nikkel’s experiences with this glut of “excess” food sparked her passion for food rescue and redistribution—in other words, intercepting the bounty of good food that farms, grocery stores, and restaurants would otherwise discard and transporting it to people who can use it. Today, Nikkel is CEO of Second Harvest Food Rescue (secondharvest.ca), the largest organization of its kind in Canada.
Something is rotten in the state of food distribution
The problems that food rescuers confront are paradoxical and staggering: worldwide, roughly 800 million people don’t have enough to eat, yet one-third of all food produced never gets consumed. In North America, that uneaten food typically ends up in landfills, where it rots, generating potent greenhouse gases.
Smaller in scale, but no less valuable to its community, is Fernie Fresh Food Share (ferniefreshfoodshare.ca), a project launched singlehandedly by Fernie, BC, resident Nicole Knauf. Horrified by the “boxes and boxes” of dumpster-bound food she first encountered as a teenager working in restaurants and bakeries, Knauf embarked in late 2017 on a mission to make excess food available to people in her community.
With grants from various sources, Fernie Fresh Food Share now operates out of a Salvation Army food bank facility, receiving and distributing weekly donations from local businesses and larger companies such as Save-On-Foods and Starbucks.
Given that conventional food banks offer mostly nonperishable canned and dry goods, Knauf takes pride in her focus on fresh foods. Programs like hers perform the dual service of preventing those foods from rotting in landfills while providing food share donees with ingredients for nutritionally complete meals.
“What if someone gets sick? Will I be sued?”
Concerns about the legal implications of donating food are common. However, across Canada, strong provincial and territorial laws protect individuals and companies who donate their food in good faith. Visit the National Zero Waste Council (nzwc.ca) for details.
We can all take part
When asked which members of her community she targets as food recipients, Knauf replies emphatically: everyone. Contrary to what many people assume, she says, “There’s tons to go around.”
Nikkel makes a similar point, adding that we need to remove the stigma associated with eating rescued food. This good quality food is surplus, not garbage, she says, and the problem we face is one of distribution, not shortage. It’s a complex, multifaceted problem, but Nikkel maintains that the “redistribution challenge” is something in which we can all participate.
It starts at home: Tips for reducing domestic food waste
Plan meals in advance, make shopping lists, and purchase appropriate quantities of food. Resist the temptation to make “more than enough” when hosting guests.
Use “ugly” produce; try the no-waste recipes featured in this issue.
Freeze leftovers that won’t be immediately consumed (if you eat out, request a “doggy bag” for uneaten food— or, better yet, bring your own container to the restaurant).
Compost organic scraps.
Be smart about best-before dates
The various (potentially confusing) date markings stamped on packaged foods are often more conservative than necessary and contribute to food waste. Visit the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (inspection.gc.ca) or foodrescue.ca to learn more about date markings, then use your informed judgment—plus your nose and eyes!—to avoid throwing out good food.
Become an anti-waste warrior
- Consider setting up a food rescue/share program in your community. Contact those who are already involved— they’re happy to provide guidance:
- Nicole Knauf—Fernie Fresh Foods Share: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Lori Nikkel or staff—Second Harvest Food Rescue: foodrescue.ca/contact-us
- If you’re a potential food donor or part of an organization seeking food donations, consider signing up with Second Harvest’s online platform, foodrescue.ca. This free Canada-wide tool saves time and money and fosters community connections by matching donors with social service agencies.
- Offer your own time or money to organizations such as the ones noted above and in our sidebar. “We are barely scratching the surface of the amount of excess food that is available,” says Lori Nikkel. “More funding allows us to do more.”
A cross-Canada tasting menu of food rescue organizations
|BC||Greater Vancouver Food Bank||foodbank.bc.ca|
|Alberta||Leftovers Rescue Food||rescuefood.ca|
|Ontario||Second Harvest’s free “matchmaking” app for food donors and recipients||foodrescue.ca|
|Quebec||Moisson Montréal Food Recovery in Supermarkets||moissonmontreal.org|
|Atlantic||FOUND fruit and vegetable recovery
Fredericton Food Rescue
|Territories||Food Rescue Yellowknife
Whitehorse Food Bank