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Food Waste

Food waste is a big problem.

No one knows this better than food agencies that feed the hungry such as the Parkdale Food Centre. At Parkdale, fighting food loss begins even before food enters the kitchen. Last fall, Parkdale joined forces with the Dalhousie Emergency Food Cupboard in the 3rd annual Rideau Pines Gleaning Day. With the help of volunteers and clients they spent the day hand-harvesting leftover vegetables that were no longer economically profitable for the farm to harvest. This food was brought back to the Centre where it was served up in healthy meals to the same clients who helped harvest it.

In this busy environment volunteers, employees and clients share and enjoy the space. In our podcast, kitchen manager Simon Bell tells us about the challenges he faces working with donations. In many cases fresh food needs to be processed quickly to maintain quality and avoid waste. Parkdale preserves donations such as fruit from Hidden Harvest and offers freezer space to its clients who want to store food and may not have the means.

The Ottawa Food Bank has also benefited from a gleaning program that allowed them to recoup 1,953 lbs. of food in 2015 from local farms such as the Proulx Sugarbush and Berry Farm. In addition the Ottawa Food Bank runs two programs that stop good food from going to waste. Fresh Harvest retrieves fresh meat, produce, bakery and deli goods from major grocery stores. City Harvest recovers already prepared food from restaurants, retirement homes and institutions. In both cases more than 650,000 pounds of food is collected and distributed to emergency housing shelters, soup kitchens and food agencies with a meal program.

Not all grocery stores participate in the Fresh Harvest program, they are usually the ones whose dumpster are full of still-good food. This has engendered an underground culture of dumpster diving that is becoming more prevalent among Canada’s youth. Last year Marketplace ran an exposé on how Canadian grocers were contributing to our food waste problem. Food waste: what some supermarkets throw out.

Although these organizations excel at diverting food from landfills, it is in our homes where we can create the biggest impact. According to the UN Food and Agricultural Organization Canadians waste $31 billion of food every year, 47% of this at the consumer level.

What can you do to reduce food waste?

Grow your own. No one knows how much work goes into growing food until they try it themselves. You will be far less likely to throw out that unfinished tomato if you planted, tended, watered and harvested it.

Buy wonky vegetables. According to the David Suzuki Foundation 30% of fruits and vegetables are rejected by grocery stores, simply because they aren’t attractive enough for consumers. The ugly food movement is gaining momentum and many grocery chains are now offering imperfect fruit and vegetables which can cost up to 30% less.

Menu planning. Bring a grocery list and shop with a weekly plan in mind that will incorporate leftovers.

Use up tired looking produce first. The best soups and stews usually start with tired looking vegetables at the bottom of the crisper. Cooked wilted celery tastes the same as fresh!

Compost.  Composting is not an answer to food waste; it still requires energy and money to compost on a significant scale. However it is preferable to throwing food in a landfill where the methane gas produced contributes to greenhouse gas emissions. 

Harvest fruit and nut trees. Harvest and preserve your own fruit or offer them to an organization such as Hidden Harvest whose volunteers will pick the fruit. One quarter goes to the owner, one quarter for the volunteers, one quarter is donated to a food agency and the rest is processed by Hidden Harvest. Watch our video about their initiative.


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  • Hidden Harvest / Community Knowledge Exchange