There are few people in town who make it their business to prevent every last scrap of food produced from going in the landfill.
Laura Rose is one of them. She sees firsthand the amount of food that’s wasted by homes and businesses. Resourcefully, she’s found a way to divert some of that food for use.
Taking to her volunteer position at the Hay River Soup Kitchen early in the mornings, Rose is often found puttering around the kitchen readying lunches for the day, stirring large pots of soup and placing a variety of foods, when she gets enough, into grocery hampers.
“It’s always a struggle,” she said. “Thankfully now we are getting meat and bread on a regular basis. We still get the odd dented can on occasion and other stuff and I’m grateful for that.”
According to the United Nations Environment Programme, around 300 million tonnes of food is wasted annually in developed regions and about one-third of all food produced, worth around US$1 trillion, gets lost or wasted in food production and consumption systems. It’s often because producers, retailers and consumers discard food that is still fit for consumption.
“This is more than the total net food production of Sub-Saharan Africa, and would be sufficient to feed the estimated 870 million people hungry in the world,” stated José Graziano da Silva, director general of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsn in a news release.
This development has prompted a worldwide campaign to change the culture of food waste across the globe.
Thanks to territorial legislation passed in 2008 that helped create the Food Rescue program in Yellowknife, Rose is able to receive donations of food that is still good, though not fresh enough to sell. The donations are then reprocessed into hearty meals for the Hay River Soup Kitchen.
Rose is seeing this change firsthand. Now she’s receiving regular donations of meat and bread from all three community grocers. But she still struggles for donations, but she knows they are out there.
Store manager Robert Wilkins he is proud of a program Northmart kicked off last May in which food is set aside for the soup kitchen. He said it’s part of a larger program the store is building to divert edible product from the landfill. After contacting Rose, the store started examining how to reduce inevitable food waste.
As food becomes close to its best before date, it loses its market value, but not necessarily its usability, said Wilkins.
Though selling products past due is against company policy, he said staff peruses shelves to put aside products with damaged packaging or close due dates for the organization.
“Last year we were able to divert quite a lot of good food that would have gone to the landfill,” he said. “If you’re not going to eat a loaf of bread in two days, you’re not going to buy that loaf of bread.”
Although he can’t quantify the tonnage of what’s been diverted or saved, he said it’s an ongoing effort. And while it’s partially a corporate initiative, Wilkins said it’s also a personal one.
“There’s nothing more embarrassing to me to see product wasted because of carelessness when there are people in the community hungry and in need,” he said. “It’s about having respect for the product you’re selling, thinking about all that’s gone into it, it’s value. It’s more than a box or a can.”
By 9:30 on a Thursday morning, the three brown paper bags, marked up with a sharpie that sat atop the windowed fridge at the Frozen Grape Kitchen Shop have been bought up. The “day-old” cookie bags carry six cookies of a different variety and are on their way to being enjoyed in offices, homes, and among friends.
Owner-operator Tiffany Gallivan said at first it was hard to gauge demand of what people would eat most. Over time though, it’s been easier to curb food waste to something that’s now almost negligible.
“Because we make everything from scratch, we sell most of what we have,” said Gallivan. “The rest we sell as day-olds or give away to staff. People shouldn’t get items that aren’t fresh, but not very much goes into the garbage here.”
Without that routine, though, she said diversion might not be possible. It takes time and effort to properly balance raw supply into the end product that’s eventually sold. And when there is waste, everything is written down.
“It’s something we have to work at really hard,” said Gallivan. “It doesn’t come easy. You have to look into the fridge every day and think about what you have, what you can make and what you need more of without getting more than you need.”
Rose echoed these sentiments. Though in the Soup Kitchen’s case this food recycling and repurposing is necessary to stay afloat and to help fill many hungry bellies in the Hay River area. But there are still more untapped resources, she said.
“There’s still lots more I’m sure that’s getting thrown out that could go to use,” she said. “Things are turfed because they look a little bit bad but there’s still a lot of things that can be done; it just takes some time and effort to do it.”
“You can take wilted produce and cut off the bad stuff,” she said. “You can blanch and freeze produce and then make them into soups or give away to people to use. If a vegetable is a little bit wilty, the soup pot will never know.”