Rescued and Redistributed Food
By Meredith Cushing, RD, MS, MSHSE (Guest writer and podcast guest)
Food Price Hikes Lead to Food Insecurity
Food prices at the grocery store have increased on average by 11% with some food items having increased more than 30%. Food inflation has been almost double that of the overall inflation rate for almost 10 months in a row. What this translates to is, an increase in food insecurity, the inability to reliably provide oneself with healthy food, having to accept a decline in quality of one’s food and nutrition due to cost, having to skip meals, and sometimes not eating for a day or more at a time because of a lack of funds. Visits to the Food Bank are up to over 1,000 new clients each month. And as the price of pretty much everything continues to rise, there is less money left at the end of the day to purchase quality, nutritious foods.
Food Redistribution Centers
There have been a number of community based initiatives that are helping to reduce the burden of food insecurity. These range from free programs to low cost and subsidized programs. One movement that is gaining popularity is rescued and redistributed food. Food rescue, sometimes called food recovery, is the practice of donating edible food to charities and not-for-profit organizations that is at risk of being wasted by businesses such as restaurants, grocery stores, and produce markets. Food redistribution takes surplus foods that are at risk of being wasted by food businesses and redistributes them through donation or by re-selling it at a price slash to discount markets, other food businesses, or to charities and other not-for-profits.
Food Waste and Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Approximately 58% of all food produced in Canada is wasted or lost every year. Within produce alone, $3.1 billion worth is rejected every year purely for cosmetic reasons. Meanwhile, Canada is experiencing the highest increase in food costs since 2010. There is also an environmental cost to food waste: 8-10% of greenhouse gas emissions responsible for the climate crisis comes from food wasted in the landfill. When food ends up in the landfill it gets covered by other garbage and rots in an anaerobic state – meaning it doesn’t get any oxygen while it decomposes. This creates methane gas, which is a leading cause of greenhouse gasses that are making a noticeable gaping hole in the ozone layer and significantly contributing to climate change.
Preventing Food Waste at the Retail Level
Grocery retailers, restaurants and businesses have taken steps to divert potential food waste through improving procurement and operating procedures as well as shortening supply chains to keep foods fresher, longer. Retailers also partner with food banks, food recovery and rescue agencies. With all their efforts, they are still left with a significant amount of food which typically gets sent to the landfill.
The Food Bank is one of the most well known and recognized community supports for those experiencing food insecurity. The food bank helps a variety of individuals, such as students, families, immigrants and unemployed individuals. By partnering with farmers, manufacturers and retailers to safely recover and redistribute surplus food at every point of the supply chain. The network of over 4, 750 affiliate Food Banks and agencies supported by the Food Banks Canada is reducing the environmental impact of food waste while helping millions of people escape food poverty. In 2021 an incredible 191M lbs. of surplus food was recovered by the food banking network.
Community fridges are a novel resource popping up in many communities. “Take what you need. Leave what you can” is the message featured on many of the fridges in Vancouver. The fridges are run by volunteers. This initiative is designed to help improve food security via a decentralized distribution network. Donations to the fridges are always welcome. The fridges accept fresh produce (purchased or grown), non-perishable items (dry pasta, rice), canned and dried goods, baked goods and breads, pre-packaged goods, dairy products, frozen meats, beverages (non-alcoholic) and plant-based foods. Fridges do not accept home cooked meals unless they have been donated by a registered kitchen or restaurant. A good rule of thumb would be to date and label any donations to the community fridge. A full list of community fridges located in Vancouver is available in the resource section.
Photo Community Fridge at Little Mountain, Vancouver
Apps for Discounted Food
Flashfood is an app based program where you can get massive savings on fresh food items like meat and produce that are nearing their best before date at grocery stores across Canada and the US. Grocers can sell food at 50% off the retail price through the app. This allows grocers to recover costs and significantly reduce their carbon footprint. Consumers are able to take advantage of healthier food items like produce, meat and prepared meals that they would ordinarily deem too expensive. You do have to have a credit card that you link to the app to pay for your order and you require transportation to pick the order up from the store.
Another app based program is Too Good to Go. Too Good to Go lets customers buy and collect Surprise Bags of food at 1/3 of the price directly from the business. Everyday, delicious fresh food goes to waste at bakeries, restaurants, hotels and grocery stores – just because it wasn’t sold in time. Too Good to Go makes sure good food gets eaten, not wasted. You reserve your mystery bundle on the app then go to the store at the designated pick up time to collect your order.
Photo of a Too Good To Go mystery bundle from a local grocery store.
Food Rescue Operations
Food Stash is a registered charity located in Vancouver. They have been in operation since 2016. Food Stash keeps good, surplus food from going to waste and delivers it to where it’s needed. Their mission is two fold: reduce the environmental impact of food waste and bridge the food insecurity gap that exists within the community. Their vision is a sustainable food system that supports healthy communities and a thriving environment. Food Stash has four main functions; rescue surplus food from grocery stores, wholesalers and farms, deliver rescued food to local charities, deliver weekly groceries to food insecure households for a low fee and their ‘Pay what you feel’ rescued food market that is open to everyone. They offer healthy perishable food (fruit, vegetables, dairy, and meat).
PEKO, serving the MetroVancouver Area, is Western Canada’s first online delivery service dedicated to “peculiar” and surplus groceries. Everything they sell is up to 40% off retail prices. 60% of the cost of orders placed for Wednesday delivery is donated to Food Stash. PEKO was started by two students at UBC who saw a need to reduce the amount of food waste that was going into landfills. Peko Produce specializes in reducing food waste by sourcing this “peculiar” produce directly from suppliers and offering it to consumers at less than grocery store prices. It gives consumers the easy option to purchase highly discounted groceries — and have them delivered — all while helping the planet. On top of aesthetics, being surplus or near the end of its shelf life will also deter a retailer from carrying produce. In order to save all the rejects, Peko Produce sources items from all of these categories, taking both organic and conventional produce, and creating “mystery boxes” with their findings. Each mystery box contains 10 to 12 lbs of peculiar and surplus produce and nine to 10 varieties of these “imperfect” local and exotic fruits and vegetables.
Photo of mystery box or “peculiar” produce.
How To Donate to Organizations
Thinking of donating to one of these organizations? There are some rules, tips and etiquette for donating to various programs to make the most of your donation.
- Always consult with the organization first before donating to find out what food items they need. Most organizations operate on very tight budgets with limited resources to receive, sort, store, or use donated food so it is important to only donate food they can use to help keep their costs down.
- Donate nutritious foods. Most organizations are looking for nutritious food items, such as vegetables and fruits, grains, meat, and dairy products. Avoid donating food and beverages that are high in fat, sugar, or sodium, such as soft drinks, energy drinks, low-nutrient snacks, pastries, and candy.
- Ensure the food is safe to eat. Do not donate unsafe or undesirable food items such as expired baby formula, open or damaged packages of food, or stale bread. Organizations that receive unsafe or undesirable foods will incur costs to dispose of the items.
- Deliver food donations to the organization. Deliver donations to organizations instead of asking them to pick up. This will reduce their transportation costs.
- Give plenty of advance notice. Give advance notice to the organization when donating food so they can plan ahead to receive, store, and use the food items, particularly foods that require refrigeration or freezing.
There are also steps that you can take to prevent food waste at home. Of the 5.14 million tonnes of food that is wasted annually by households in Canada, 63% is avoidable, consisting of food that could have been eaten. For the average Canadian household, that amounts to 140 kilograms of wasted food per year – at a cost of more than $1,100 per year.
- Plan it out. One of the most effective ways to reduce food waste at home – and save money – is to plan your meals and shop smart, so you buy only what you need and you use everything you buy.
When making a meal plan for the week, determine first what you can make with the food you already have and then add some of your favourite meals.
Use your meal plan to create a shopping list and then, before you shop, check your fridge, freezer, and cupboards to see what you have and what you need.
- Use it up. To help reduce edible food waste at home, use up the food you already have in your fridge, pantry, or cupboard.
Often a quick fix in the kitchen can revive would-be throwaway food items into healthy and tasty meals. For example, soaking wilted veggies in ice water is often enough to reinvigorate them. If they can’t be revived, some veggies you intended to eat raw can still be a tasty ingredient in a cooked dish or in a smoothie.
- Best before dates. We know that the date labels can be confusing and can lead to food being thrown away or composted prematurely. Learn more about the best before dates so you can avoid throwing out food that is still good to eat.
- Keep it fresh. Storing your food properly will make it last longer and you will end up throwing away less. 45% of food that is wasted at home is produce, often because it wasn’t stored properly.
- Recipes. Find delicious recipes and tips for using up extra ingredients and leftovers.
Be part of the solution and join the rescued food movement today!