On Nov. 24, the Toronto Food Policy Council and the University of Toronto hosted a Food Waste Symposium, featuring a screening of Just Eat It, followed by a Q&A panel discussion with 6 experts who are battling food waste at various stages of the food chain. The panel included Jamie Reaume, Executive Director of the Holland Marsh Growers’ Association, Chair of the Ontario Food Terminal, and as of earlier this year, our elected Chair.
Just Eat It explores the incontrovertible global issue of food waste, illustrating the shocking percentage of food waste that occurs all along the food supply chain, to ultimately also, often, be wasted in our homes (roughly half of the waste occurs in households). The issue of food waste is undoubtedly a detrimental one – squandering such a high percentage of our food, especially while parts of our population are food insecure, is nonsensical and fundamentally destructive on a very large scale. And we can’t just view it as the food going to waste: it’s also the vast amount of energy and resources that are put into creating that food in the first place.
Interviewing farmers, authors and other experts throughout, the documentary is guided by a couple that decides to live off of wasted food for 6 months. From “dumpster diving” to asking grocery stores for items they won’t sell, the couple makes a clear point, as they have no real issue in getting an abundance of edible food (their main issue simply seems to be getting tired of an excess amount of the same food).
Jamie asserts in the discussion afterward that “the system is broken”, and that distribution is the achilles heel. We create more than enough food (in 2013, food waste was worth an estimated $27 billion each year – and now a very recent study shows Canada’s annual food waste is at $31 billion), yet parts of Canada are food insecure (a 2012 study found that 4 million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, experienced some level of food insecurity).
The issue of aesthetics, and the fact that grocery stores won’t sell fruits and vegetables that don’t fit a certain image, was also a topic of interest, as it can force farmers to discard a large portion of their yield that is more than edible and nutritious. And this is just one of the many points of food loss along the wasteful chain.
The reasons why, and the places along the chain where food is wasted, is a comprehensive conversation (and an important one to have), as well as the repercussions and issues it creates; though, the panel agrees that we should at least be eating the food we produce.
Food education, as always, is an integral part of this food dilemma, as well as a promising, partial solution. We’ve got to value our food, and the hard workers that get it to us.
Ideas discussed throughout the evening/film on ways to battle food waste, the issues that cause it, and the issues it conversely causes, include:
- Support farmers and make sure they are paid enough
- Food education: food literacy in the school curriculum
- Value your food and your farmers
- Re-use, save leftovers, share
- Plan your meals ahead of time, and try to grocery shop less
- Use your freezer more
- Use what’s in your fridge (eat what you have, not what you want)
- Know that “best before” dates only have to do with quality/freshness, not food safety
- Eat “ugly” fruits and vegetables – they were grown with the same care, and have the same nutrients
- Talk, engage and work with like-minded individuals (and groups) who are fighting for the same causes
- Engage with your municipality and councillors
- And of course, Just Eat It
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Want to learn more about Food Waste in Canada?
Toronto Youth Food Policy Council on Food Waste
Hunger Facts from Second Harvest
Developing an Industry Led Approach to Addressing Food Waste in Canada
Food Waste in Canada, Value Change Management Centre
Most of Canada’s wasted food dumped from homes, CBC, 2012
How do we stop wasting so much food? Globe and Mail, 2014
Food Waste a Serious Problem in Canada, Marc and Craig Kielburger, 2014