Canada’s Dirty Little Secret: We Are One Of The Biggest Wasters Of Food On The Planet

The average Canadian consumer throws out an estimated 170 kilograms of food a year, making Canada Among The Worst Globally In Wasting Food, today, we are fighting food waste with Second Harvest!

In fact, we waste so much food that a researcher likened it to tossing a quarter of our groceries away when we leave the supermarket.

According to a recent report on the state of food loss and waste in Canada, U.S. and Mexico, Canada is among the worst globally in wasting food.

The report released by the Commission for Environmental Cooperation — an environmental agency set up under the North American Free Trade Agreement — found when including all stages of the food supply chain, 396 kilograms of food per capita is wasted in Canada every year.

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest
Photo/ Commission for Environmental Cooperation

That’s compared with 415 kilograms in the United States and 249 kilograms in Mexico

Second Harvest, the largest food rescue organization in Canada hopes to change that! 

Established in 1985, Second Harvest is the largest food rescue charity in Canada. They rescue surplus, fresh food that would otherwise go to waste, and delivers that food to more than 225 social service agencies in Toronto, feeding people experiencing hunger. Since 1985 Second Harvest has rescued and delivered over 116 million pounds of good food, thus preventing 50 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

That’s pretty impressive. We caught up with them recently to talk about why food waste matters and why it needs to matter to all Canadians! 

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

What is Second Harvest? 

Second Harvest is the largest food rescue organization in Canada, last year we rescued and delivered millions of pounds of fresh, healthy surplus food from farms, manufacturers, processors, cold storage’s, and retail. This food was used to feed over 310,000 people. 

How does that make you unique?  

We deal primarily with perishable food with a focus on Protein, Dairy and Produce.  As these are the categories of food that are harder to access for low-income people.

We can do this with a fleet of 11 refrigerated trucks, freezer, and cooler storage. 

Food donations are recovered from food business and delivered to social service agencies typically, within 24-48 hours.

Second Harvest is NOT a food bank nor are we a poverty reduction social service, we have a very clear mandate to support rescuing and delivering surplus healthy food to ensure an immediate solution to hunger while also diverting good healthy food from landfills.

We support food banks and meal programs that operate programs for children and youth, women, and children fleeing domestic violence, seniors on a fixed income, programs for newcomers to Canada, political refugees and many others.

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

Photo: Unspalsh

How do you do this? 

By having our refrigerated fleet preloaded every morning with food that would best support the agencies on that route, our drivers who are all food safety certified, get on the road and start delivering, at each stop, agency staff and volunteers pick and choose items that will benefit their program. while tracking everything with software we provide.

There is, however, so much surplus food Second Harvest has extended its reach and delivers and exchanges large donations to food hubs across the province of Ontario.

It’s important to note that although a charity Second Harvest operates as a business with the same cold chain regulations, food safety requirements and compliance you would expect from any major retailer.

We exist to recover and redistribute perishable food that is available. 

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

Photo Via Instagram, Second Harvest

We also understand the need to support training and education.  Several of the organizations we support do not have adequate equipment or infrastructure to prepare meals, we have tried to alleviate this challenge by creating Harvest Kitchens, 5 kitchens that are used as teaching and training programs, providing people with barriers to employment the skills they need to find jobs in the culinary field or to go back to school.

These kitchens are provided funding and the raw ingredients required to make meals, once the meals are prepared Second Harvest refrigerated trucks pick them up and deliver them to social service agencies that don’t have the infrastructure to prepare full meals.   

Our education programs provide certification in safe food handling, we and conduct inexpensive recipe development workshops among others.

Why is it so important today?

Because there is more than enough food in the world for everyone to be food secure.

Our dual mission of No Waste No Hunger is critical because when surplus food ends up in landfill it produces Methane gas, which is about 25% more potent than Carbon Dioxide, and a significant contributor to climate change.

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

Photo: Unspalsh

Typically, when we think about climate change we don’t automatically think food, however … if food waste were a county, it would be the third biggest gas emitter in the world.  Second only to China and USA.

While at the same time, 1 in 8 families in our country struggles to put healthy food on the table.

Often there is a misconception, that industrialized countries like Canada don’t have issues with food insecurity or hunger, yet 16% of children in the GTA lack access to the food they need for success  and 13 percent of Canadians live in a state of low food security, which means there isn’t reliable access to adequate amounts of safe, good-quality, nutritious food.

Why do people waste so much food?

More than a third of food produced and distributed in Canada never gets eaten, with significant environmental, economic and social consequences. 

Almost half of the 31 billion dollars of food waste happens at the consumer level.

As individuals, there is a great deal we can do.  Below are a few suggestions:

How does feeding the hungry play into your ethos?

Our vision is simple, no waste, no hunger, and our Food Rescue & Delivery Program is the fundamental principle in support of our vision. With 10 trucks and 1 van on the road, we connect excess food with those in need. The program runs 7 days a week and provides food to our network of over 253 social service agencies in Toronto and reaches 15 large food hubs across Ontario.

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

Photo: Second Harvest/Facebook

The rescued food is then delivered to a network of more than 253 social service agencies. They include food banks, meal programs, children’s breakfast programs, community centers, drop-in centers, summer camps, women’s shelters, homeless shelters and centres for addiction and mental health treatment.

How is this model of saving food sustainable?

Donating food to Second Harvest helps save the environment from unnecessary landfill and helps reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In 2017, Second Harvest prevented 6.1 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere and saved 8.9 billion litres of water through food rescue.

How are you a global thought leader on food waste?

Second Harvest is a leader on Food Rescue which intern provides many opportunities to collaborate on Food Waste solutions with Industry, Academia, government and the community at large. Our innovative and nimble ability to divert surplus food is a model that is requested across the globe.

Fighting Food Waste With Second Harvest

Photo: Second Harvest/Facebook

As Co-Chair of the National Zero Waste Council Food – Working Group, we have developed a nation-wide, multi-year framework for action that brings together the private sector, governments, and civil society in a collaborative and systematic effort to reduce the waste of edible food — throughout the value chain, from farm to fork. This strategy proposes an approach that closes the loop on food waste occurring during the production, processing, distribution and consumption of food.

How much food do you rescue? 

Every year, Second Harvest rescues over 10 million pounds of fresh, healthy, perishable foods — focusing on protein, dairy and produce – and deliver to 253 social service agencies in the Toronto area and 15 Food Hubs across Ontario.

Through our food rescue programs, Second Harvest provides over 30,000 meals  a day to those in need in Toronto and an additional 4,600 meals a day across Ontario.

In 2017, Second Harvest prevented 6.1 million pounds of greenhouse gases from entering the atmosphere.

Since 1985 we have rescued and delivered more than 127 million pounds of food.

You work across the supply chain from farmer to retail to capture surplus food before it ends up in the landfill which negatively impacts our environment. How do you do this?

Second Harvest goes straight to the source, we work directly with farmers, processors, manufacturers, distribution centers and large retailers. We are also launching a technology which will allow social service agencies to rescue food directly from the food business.

Education and awareness is a key component in our success for two reasons; first in creating mindfulness within the food industry about the growing need for food donations in Toronto and secondly, by providing practical solutions for rescuing and delivering excess food to those in need.

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