Thinking about throwing out some leftovers?

According to a study released by Second Harvest last week, you’re not alone, as a whopping 58% of all food produced in the country – 35.5 million metric tonnes – is either lost or wasted every year.

What’s more, almost a third of that – 11.2 metric tonnes of food – could be “rescued” and redistributed to hungry Canadians.

According to the report, “The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste”, a staggering amount of food is lost during production and on the consumer level.

Approximately 4.82 million tonnes of food is wasted during harvesting and processing, and some 2.38 million tonnes of food is lost by consumers. Those millions of tonnes of food equate to billions of lost dollars.

In total, a staggering $49.46 billion in food is lost or wasted in Canada every year, says Second Harvest, but measures can be taken to reduce or redistribute the food.

“The abundance of food in Canada has led us to dismiss its intrinsic value as a source of life-giving nutrition at the same time as 4 million Canadians – including 1.4 million children –struggle to access healthy food,” reads the report.

“There is a way forward, but we need to start by radically rethinking how we value food at each stage of the value chain.”

Second Harvest cites a number of reasons for the food waste, but the the main offenders include:

  • The cultural acceptance of waste by the food industry as the cost of doing business.
  • Misinformation about conservative best before dates that lead consumers to throwing away food that is still safe to eat.
  • Pressure on farmers to provide 100% aesthetically perfect food, particularly in fruits and vegetables, that leads to overproduction.
  • Reluctance of food industries to donate safe, edible surplus food despite existing methods that allow for donation.

Picking up less at the grocery store

In the report, Second Harvest offers over 100 actions for the industry and consumers to help reduce food waste.

At home, the easiest thing to do is to pick up fewer groceries in one trip (to avoid throwing out expired or spoiled food) and to be less cautious with best before dates.

“Ideally, we would purchase a few days’ worth of perishable food at a time, eat what we buy, then re-stock fresh items as needed, while filling the gaps with frozen fruits and vegetables and shelf-stable items like legumes and pastas,” reads the report. Though the research does acknowledge that modern life makes it difficult to maintain this “old world” method of grocery shopping, especially in rural or remote communities.

Moreover, for the vast majority of edible items, the best before date does not mean “inedible” afterwards. Second Harvest hopes to change the “when in doubt, throw it out” mentality to one that is more nuanced so that nutritious food doesn’t end up in the garbage or compost.

Currently, Victoria has several food redistribution services, like Food Share Network.
The network supports food security in the city through by connecting food banks, community centres, donors, and other participating organizations.

“There is more than enough food produced in Canada and the world that no one ever needs to be hungry. This report provides us with concrete solutions that will allow food to get to those who need it,” said Lori Nikkel, CEO of Second Harvest in a release.