It seems like a marriage made in heaven. Eliminate the vast amount of food waste in our society by giving it to the poor and hungry. No more hunger. No more waste. At least that's what advocates for food-waste-to-the-poor schemes will have us believe. Here at home, MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau's private member's bill, C-231, Fight Against Food Waste Act, will continue being debated in the House of Commons in the coming weeks.
But this is a relationship doomed before it even begins. That's because this bill and other initiatives like it fail to address the real root causes of hunger and food waste. In fact, by conflating and confusing these issues, it makes it harder to develop meaningful and effective strategies to address both of these growing problems.
Simply put, food waste will never be able to address hunger because hunger isn't about a lack of food. It's about a lack of income. People are food insecure because they can't afford to eat.
Food waste diversion strategies aimed at the poor don't fix the food waste problem, either.
Waste isn't about not having enough mouths to feed. It's about inefficiencies and bureaucracy in the food system that see crops tilled under and lost in the production process; other crops that are overproduced as a result of antiquated agricultural policy and incentive programs; a retail system that has overabundance built into its operation model; and individual consumers who buy food with the best intentions, only to have it spoil in the back of the fridge.
All of this has nothing to do with the fact that we throw away 30 to 40 per cent of the food we produce.
There's a lot of work to be done on all these fronts. But if we're going to make any progress on any of these issues, we need to think upstream.
If we want to stop millions of Canadians from going to bed hungry every night, we need to ensure that they have the ability to access food. That means shaking up our outdated notions of who is going hungry in this country.
We have a growing population of working poor in Canada whose wages do not cover basic necessities. The most recent findings from the University of Toronto's PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research program show that the majority of food insecure households in Canada rely on wages or salaries from employment. Inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meagre pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity in this country. All of this has nothing to do with the fact that we throw away 30 to 40 per cent of the food we produce.
Which is not to say that food waste isn't a problem. In fact, it's a massive issue that requires our attention. The food that we throw out unnecessarily gobbles up resources, including energy, water, land and labour to the tune of $100 billion each year. And the food that ends up rotting in landfills fuels climate change by generating 20 per cent of Canada's methane gas emissions.
But this waste isn't concentrated at the retail level, where food waste plans are focused. Waste happens across the chain from field to fridge: 34 per cent of it is generated before food reaches the store, and a whopping 47 per cent of it happens in our homes. That means that only 10 per cent of all food waste in Canada is created at the retail level, and another nine per cent by restaurants.
If we want to tackle this monumental problem, we need a whole-system approach -- from taxing waste to public education on reducing waste in our own kitchens.
But let's not conflate a food waste strategy with a poverty reduction strategy. It's destructive to do so. Are we saying that the poor among us are only worthy of the castoffs of the industrial food system -- the majority of which is unhealthy food, laden with fat, sugar, and salt, which increases the risk of diet-related illnesses? There's no question we can and must do better than this as a society.
Diverting food waste to fill the shelves of a growing number of food banks can't and won't stop the problem of hunger in Canada.
When food banks were first established in Canada 40 years ago, they were intended to act as a stopgap. But the problem of food insecurity in Canada didn't stop, and the gap has only grown bigger. Since food banks opened their doors in 1970s, hunger has only gone in one direction: up.
Today more than four million people in this country are unsure about when they'll eat next or skip meals so their kids can eat. Diverting food waste to fill the shelves of a growing number of food banks can't and won't stop the problem of hunger in Canada. It makes for good PR for the companies that donate, but does little for the people it's intended to help.
Similarly, the new schemes about food waste -- such as National Zero Waste Council's push to create tax incentives for companies who donate their waste to non-profits working with the poor -- benefit the companies first and foremost. They do little to encourage real change and actually hijack productive discussions about how to tackle poverty.
Instead of incentivizing waste by dangling corporate tax credits, we ought to support employees fighting for fair, livable wages. And let's put those same tax dollars into building the social infrastructure required to ensure no one will ever again need to rely on someone else's leftovers for sustenance. It's time that politicians, backed by citizen voices, talk about justice and equity. It's time to create real, long lasting solutions to poverty and hunger, policies that bring us together, rather than divide us as citizens.
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When discarded food is thrown into the land fill, food decomposes and releases methane gas which contributes to global warming. To avoid piling on the damage with your wasted food, take a look how you can recur food waste, save money and help protect the planet.
Plan your meals for the week and check the ingredients to ensure you have all you need. Avoid going food shopping on an empty stomach as it will tempt you to buy too much than you need, especially fresh produce that often gets wasted. Buy loose fruit and vegetables instead of multipacks, as that way, you only buy what you need. Try and steer clear of the 'buy one, get one free' offers unless you know the food will get eaten.
When you buy new food, bring older food items in your cupboard and fridge to the front so you don't forget they are there. Put the new food nearer the back as they'll have a longer expiry date. Prioritise what is already in in your cupboards.
If you have a lot of food left over from the night before, simply store it in a plastic freezable container and pop it in the freezer. This is perfect for batch freezing and great for digging out on occasions where you are tight for time.
Instead of throwing away leftovers that didn't make it, use them in tomorrow's dinner. For example, if you made a dish of mashed potato with lots left over, mould them into patty shapes and make your own hash browns the next morning. Or better still, use your discarded vegetables to make a healthy 'bubble and squeak'. This applies to all vegetables, salads and things like leftover meat (who you can eat cold the next day for lunch). If your apples have gone soft and your vegetables are starting to wilt, instead of throwing them in the bin, make fruit smoothies and delicious home made soups. Re-use the trimmed ends of vegetables like carrots, celery and peppers by boiling them and making your own vegetable broth. Dry a batch of tomatoes before they go off by placing them in the oven and then store them in olive oil for your own tasty dried tomatoes. Just because fruit and vegetables have lost their original shape and vibrancy, doesn't mean they're destined for the dustbin.
Although some food wastage is unavoidable, why not create a compost bin for your fruit and vegetable peelings? These can be obtained through your local council and are cheap to buy. In a few months, you'll end up with a rich compost for plants to grow in.
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