Edmonton chef cooking up a plan to boost food security
Leftovers YEG picks up excess food from restaurants and grocery stores and delivers it to service agencies in Edmonton
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Daniel Huber is on a mission to change how people think about waste — one scrap of food at a time.
And while he’s at it, he and his team of volunteers are working to deliver more than 1,000 pounds of food a week to various service agencies in Edmonton, who in turn give the food to those in need.
Huber is the head chef and team lead with Leftovers YEG, which officially launched in Edmonton in November. The team is partnered with 42 restaurants, bakeries and grocery stores to pick up excess food and deliver it to service agencies.
It’s based on the model of Leftovers Rescue Food, which started in Calgary five years ago and now delivers about 4,000 pounds of food weekly.
“We can transport food on a daily basis, within a few hours, that would otherwise get tossed because of its perishability,” Huber said. “There’s a large scope of food that fall under the categories of things that people might not even think to donate to the food bank.”
That includes day-old bread, produce and even canned goods slightly past the best before date.
“We don’t accept food we wouldn’t eat ourselves,” Huber noted.
As a Red Seal chef who has been cooking for about 25 years, Huber has seen a lot of food go to waste. That experience plus annual trips abroad have provided perspective on how he can utilize leftover food items.
“We have unfettered access to so many different things. And when you go to a country like Cuba, you see that there is limited access, which amounts most of the time to little waste,” he said.
“The reality is we have this absolutely ridiculous abundance of food,” Huber added. “And then we have people who are starving.”
So he decided to do something about it. But Huber acknowledges that delivering 1,000 pounds of food every week isn’t going to solve hunger in Edmonton.
Leftovers YEG is also about shifting people’s understanding of food and how they use it.
“It’s something I’ve had to overcome myself — best before does not mean expired. And there’s a lot of different ways to utilize (food),” Huber said.
The North American mentality is to go for the freshest food possible, even if that means throwing out day-old bread or leftovers, Huber said.
“And I go through the same problems on a daily basis,” he emphasized. “We’ve been programmed to be very comfortable.”
Leftovers YEG is entirely volunteer run by about 35 people. They are currently holding a $20,000 online fundraiser to develop and launch a mobile app, which will allow them to coordinate their routes and drivers far more efficiently.
“An app will have people in the queue and will be able to coordinate it better … almost like an Uber for food,” Huber said.
They’re also holding a fundraiser on March 19 at Northern Chicken, from 7 to 11 p.m. They’ll be raising money to buy some vans, as currently volunteers deliver the food in their own cars.
They’ll also be demonstrating how they have joined forces with Yellowhead Brewery to use spent grains to create items such as granola mixes, just one example of how they're repurposing food.
"The only way to do things different is to get the consumer and the average person to adjust the way they think," Huber said. "And then the businesses will act accordingly."