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City Holler

Trish Kelly explores the issues and challenges that face our growing city.

Wasting food is built into our culture, let's change

How many times has it happened to you? You open up the crisper drawer and find wilted things you meant to eat, now too cruddy even for a soup? It’s a shocking fact that 40 per cent of the food produced in Canada is never actually eaten. Our regional government has crunched the numbers. Every day, the Vancouver region throws away 80,000 potatoes, 26,000 bananas, 70,000 cups of milk, and 32,000 loaves of bread. Every single day. How did we get so wasteful?

There are practical reasons that we waste food. Most often, we bought or made too much, or we just didn’t get around to finishing it in time. My own chronic food waste boo-boo is going shopping without checking the fridge first. Back home, I unload my groceries and find slightly less appealing versions of my purchases waiting in the crisper. After my palm-to-forehead gesture of regret, I have to decide whether to toss old stuff.

It seems wasting is so deeply built into our culture, we waste food simply because we can. Somehow, we’ve gotten into the habit of thinking plenty, and its resulting waste, are signs that we’re doing well. From community feasts to home dinner parties, we feel we’ve failed our guests if the food runs out. Having too much is the mark of a good host.

It’s also true that we waste because we don’t know how to save food before it’s too far gone. If you fall into that camp, governments and community members are hoping to help.

Earlier this month, Metro Vancouver launched Love Food Hate Waste, a three-year campaign to reduce avoidable food waste at home. It’s modeled after a U.K. program of the same name that has been successful in changing behaviour and influencing government policy. The website is full of great tips on how to organize your fridge so your food stays fresh longer. It’s a great start.

Jenny Rustemeyer, a B.C. filmmaker who lived on only “rescued food” for six months while she filmed Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, is part of a group organizing Feeding the 5000 at the Vancouver Art Gallery. On Wednesday morning, North Shore Culinary School students and Chef Don Guthro will serve 5,000 free lunches made from rescued foods like overripe tomatoes and packaged foods coming close to their “best by” date.

There will also be practical advice to reduce waste and activities for kids. If the event attendance doesn’t hit 5,000, the Vancouver Food Bank will collect any leftovers. But let’s not leave it to the food bank. Let’s do lunch on the Vancouver Art Gallery lawn and all pledge to waste less food.

Trish Kelly lives and writes in East Vancouver. Follow her @trishkellyc

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