Food security is set to become a key issue in 2017, both for Canadian families as well as for the nation’s policymakers. With food bank use already up 26 per cent since the 2008 recession, resources are projected to become even more strained. A December report said food prices will climb three to five per cent over the upcoming year.
That will mean an extra $420 on average in food expenses for Canadian families, and food banks say they are already feeling the effects, as higher prices limit the amount of canned, frozen and fresh food they can afford to purchase, while the extra costs mean donations from businesses like grocery stores also end up declining.
But one sector of Canada’s food economy still remains relatively untapped, say food security experts: food waste. A 2014 report found that each year Canada puts a whopping $31 billion worth of food right into landfill and compost sites. Too much, says a new group of students from Western University in London, Ontario, who have founded a new organization called reHarvest. Aimed at helping to deliver food from donor businesses to food banks and other non-profits, the project grew out of a sense of shock at the amount of food waste that takes place across the country. “We read an article about food waste and heard 30 to 40 per cent of food is being wasted, and it is such a crazy number,” says Amy Wang, co-organizer of reHarvest, in conversation with the London Free Press.
The Western University group sees their efforts as part of the enterprise of community building, saying the topic of food waste is an opportunity for Londoners to empower their own community all the while helping to create sustainability. So far, Wang says she is impressed by the response they’ve gotten from the local business community.
“Businesses and organizations have been surprisingly receptive to us,” says Wang, reporting that a local farmers’ market and grocery have already agreed to donate to the program. ReHarvest is currently looking for volunteers to help transport donations across the city.
And while large donations from grocery stores and the like are often the bread and butter of food rescue services, potential smaller donations – from families, catering companies and small stores – often get passed over, simply because of lack of volunteer resources to do the work of picking up the donations. Now, one food security organization in the U.S. has come up with an app to address the problem. Calling it the Uber of Food Recovery, the Food Rescue Hero is the brainchild of Pittsburgh non-profit, 412 Food Rescue, who saw a need for better volunteer resource management. “The app will tell them you’re picking up at this location and delivering to this location,” says Jennifer England, Director of Operations at 412 Food Rescue. “They can make the decision whether it works for them or not.” The group currently has a roster of 450 volunteers that they draw upon.
A CBC report last fall showed that Canada is lagging behind other countries on the issue of food security and food waste. Last year, France made it illegal for supermarkets to waste food, forcing them to initiate agreements with charities to take their unwanted resources. In the United States, both Massachusetts and California have similar laws banning businesses from wasting food.