It’s food, not waste

Every day in Victoria people go hungry, food bank shelves stay empty, and low-income families struggle to put food on the table—especially around the holidays. What if I told you that big-chain grocery stores individually throw out thousands of dollars’ worth of “unsellable” produce every day? Why is it acceptable that food is wasted, while countless people are going hungry? The problem lies in a system that accepts waste, in addition to our society’s over-excessive food standards.

Food is wasted at all levels of production: from farmers to retailers, approximately 30 per cent of fruits and vegetables harvested never even make it to grocery stores. The loss resulting from food waste in Canada is valued at approximately $27 billion a year. Overall, about 40 per cent of the food we produce is estimated as ending up wasted. Not only is this expensive, but it could be spent on feeding the 1.6-million Canadian households that are going hungry. The reality is our food standards are far too high.

For grocery stores, it is the standard for each apple to be perfect, meaning uniform size, shape, and colour. This is unnatural; any apple that is misshapen, scratched, or bruised is designated unsellable and is composted. Thus, grocery stores throw out so much food because of our aesthetic expectations. Part of the problem is our perception; our standards are too high, and this is driving grocery stores to waste food that is edible. But why not donate this food?

Grocery stores claim that they can’t donate their unsold food to people in need due to risk of possible liability. This is an incorrect assumption for two reasons: first, the Food Donor Encouragement Act created by the Provincial Government in 1997 protects well-intended food donors from liability in the event of sickness or even death; second, our community action project demonstrates that “unsellable” food is perfectly edible and nutritious, and won’t cause sickness. We literally made a dumpster salad to prove our point.

We represent a group of University of Victoria students called “Food Not Waste.” Our mission is to divert unsellable food from grocery stores to food banks instead. We have come up against considerable resistance from big-chain stores when they’re asked to donate, although we have had some small successes working with locally owned and operated businesses. We have also successfully implemented a pilot project with an anonymous local store to donate food for the month of November. On any given day, we can receive up to four boxes of produce and day-old bread that would otherwise have gone to waste. One box of food can easily feed a family for a week. Local efforts seem to have the greatest impact when it comes to social responsibility.

With the holidays around the corner, we urge other local grocery store owners to embrace the spirit of giving and donate their “unsellable” products to food banks. Even donating once a week can make a difference in someone’s life. We also propose a challenge to all individuals to rethink social standards; buy local, and don’t overlook the apple with the small bruise. Cut it out! Literally!

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