Food waste at record levels as other Canadians go hungry

WATCH ABOVE: Canadians waste a staggering $31 billion in food every year and its having a huge impact environmentally and economically. As Allison Vuchnich discovered, you may be surprised who the worst wasters are.

In Canadian grocery stores food is plentiful and abundant. We have grown accustomed to our produce looking picture perfect, and if something is not, most consumers leave it on the shelves. But our pickiness comes with a cost.

Food waste in Canada is costing $31 billion a year. Waste occurs at various points of the food supply system. There are lots of gaps, according to experts, but the biggest source of waste are households.

“Statistically we waste 31 million pounds of food a year,” Debra Lawson, executive director of Second Harvest told Global News, “and that is mainly 50 per cent household waste, what you and I would buy, not eat, and throw out. That is an incredible amount of food.”

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Sylvain Charlebois, a professor at the University of Guelph’s Food Institute believes Canada needs a national strategy and an educational program in schools.

“I think everyone should be shocked about these numbers,” Charlebois said, “we often don’t remind ourselves that we are really the ones wasting the most food, throughout the supply chain, and of course there is waste across the supply chain but really as consumers we can actually make a significant difference just by changing some of the things we do on a daily basis.”

Some of the changes he recommends include making a list before you go shopping and sticking to it and to not go shopping if you’re hungry as there is credible research that shows you buy more when you are hungry. Also, be an inventory manager at home, check your cupboards and refrigerator – what do you have and what do you really need? Be creative and re-purpose leftovers, and if you have too much food, or you know you won’t use it – donate it.

When food ends up in the landfill as it decomposes it releases methane. As Environment Canada puts it, “Methane is 21 times more potent than carbon dioxide in terms of its global warming potential. Emissions from Canadian landfills account for 20 per cent of national methane emissions.”

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Rescuing food to feed those in need

Santiago Holguin is a man on a mission. A rescue mission. He is a driver for Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue. He spends his days collecting surplus fresh food and then distributing it to agencies that feed those in need.

His first stop at a grocery store in downtown Toronto he picked up fresh produce, chicken and fruit. The donated food comes from a variety of sources, grocery stores, manufacturers, distributors, hotels and farmers.

“Second Harvest is Canada’s largest food rescue organization. What we do is we rescue fresh nutrient dense food that otherwise people would throw away,” Debra Lawson told Global News. “So you can imagine we are not just picking up food, we are preventing that food from going to landfill and what we do with that incredibly great food is we deliver it to over 200 agencies in this city.”

WATCH: A day-in-the-life of Second Harvest driver Santiago Holguin. As Debra Lawson, executive director of Second Harvest explains, they rescue and deliver more than 7 million pounds of food every year.

Holguin delivers to the YMCA Basic Culinary Skills Training Programs in Toronto, where student chefs take the donated food and turn it into meals.

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“Every day when the truck rolls up it’s like a big black box competition, iron chef competition, we don’t know what’s been donated for that day,” Adam Lariviere, director of hospitality programs for the YMCA of Greater Toronto told Global News. “We open up the truck, we see what they have and the students take it.”

The kitchen is buzzing with activity as the staff chop vegetables and busily prepare thousands of meals a week for agencies that Second Harvest helps.

“It’s great that we have an outlet like this where we can take that product that isn’t sold but is still in excellent condition, excellent quality, and we can divert it away from the landfills,” said Lariviere, “and use it for a lot of different purposes… we use it for teaching to help people with employment and things like that and then we also use it to feed people in need.”

The need is great. In a country where close to 900,000 Canadian are assisted by a food bank and close to 37 per cent of those are children and youth.

Charlebois thinks Canada needs to build awareness and a national strategy would help. He also recommends educational programs.

Until that day, Holguin and the other Second Harvest drivers roll on seven days a week rescuing food. Last year close to 7 million pounds of food was recovered.

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