Food for thought

The Compass - - Editorial - Pat Cullen

The me­dia tells us Canada wastes about $31 bil­lion worth of food each year. The fig­ure comes from a 2014 re­port by the con­sult­ing firm Value Chain Man­age­ment In­ter­na­tional and is widely quoted by news out­lets.

Na­tion­ally, house­hold­ers are pin­pointed as the big­gest of­fend­ers-and that seems true for us as well. Ac­cord­ing to the lo­cal web­site Re Think Waste NL “…each per­son in New­found­land and Labrador gen­er­ates 2kg (4.5 lbs) of waste per day.” In a prov­ince of roughly 526,000, that’s hardly in­signif­i­cant. It is also true that some of our busi­nesses need to take more in­ter­est in pre­serv­ing this most pre­cious re­source.

A se­nior staff mem­ber at a store who re­quested anonymity for fear of get­ting in trou­ble said good food that looks im­per­fect is thrown out. “If it doesn’t look too bad, we’ll try to sell it, but gen­er­ally speak­ing we do throw it out. Un­less we can use it in some­thing else, well, I’ll just say that yes, we’ll throw it out,” were the com­ments.

The per­son later re­versed and said as far as they knew qual­ity food was not end­ing up in the garbage. “For the most part, any­thing that’s thrown out is def­i­nitely no good. It’s usu­ally mouldy, or there’s spots on it that you can put your fin­gers through, you can’t sell it.” Quite the re­ver­sal!

Juanita Drover, the fran­chisee for Food­land in Car­bon­ear says fresh food is tossed on its best­be­fore date. When asked if good food is thrown out if it looks im­per­fect, she said, “Yes, we have to. It’s food-safety pol­icy. If it’s juice, it’s dumped in the sink, milk (is) dumped in the sink, canned goods are sent back to Sobeys.”

But fresh foods which have not reached their best-be­fore date that look im­per­fect are sold, “if they’re not mouldy or rot­ten. If it’s good qual­ity, (just) de­formed, no we won’t throw it out. If it’s bruised or rot­ten, it goes in the garbage.”

While Drover didn’t say what sort of cans were be­ing re­turned to Sobeys, Jen­nifer McCrindle, man­ager, ex­ter­nal com­mu­ni­ca­tions, Sobeys Inc. ex­plained her com­pany’s pol­icy on them.

“Food­land fran­chisees are not re­quired to ‘send cans back’ to Sobeys once they reach the la­beled best be­fore date … store op­er­a­tors are in­vited to send de­fec­tive cans back for re­fund (i.e. swollen, dented, pit­ted, rusty),” she said.

Her email fur­ther states her com­pany is presently try­ing to im­ple­ment a food do­na­tion pro­gram for Food­land stores which it plans to in­tro­duce to New­found­land in late 2018 (or) early 2019.

It’s un­for­tu­nate that good food is wasted re­ally, but ob­vi­ously they don’t want to take chances.

Car­bon­ear Food­land do­nates roughly $1,000 in cash and food each year to food banks. Do­min­ion in Car­bon­ear do­nates per­ish­ables be­fore their best-be­fore date to the char­ity to which it’s matched and an email from Loblaws de­scribes the chain as “one of the largest contributors to food banks in the prov­ince.”

A state­ment from the Pow­ell Group of Com­pa­nies says its su­per­mar­kets “con­trib­ute to lo­cal food banks… on a reg­u­lar ba­sis.” Loblaws also sells oddly shaped fruits and veg­eta­bles at re­duced prices in its Nat­u­rally Im­per­fect line.

But how are we to get more meats and dairy prod­ucts into our food banks? Mark Boudreau, direc­tor, cor­po­rate af­fairs, Loblaw At­lantic says most per­ish­able foods sel­dom see the inside of this prov­ince’s food banks. Un­like other prov­inces, such as Nova Sco­tia, we have no re­frig­er­ated trucks to trans­port them.

Eg Wal­ters, gen­eral man­ager of the St. John’s-based Com­mu­nity Food Shar­ing As­so­ci­a­tion, the or­ga­ni­za­tion deal­ing with all food banks in the prov­ince, says his as­so­ci­a­tion doesn’t have a re­frig­er­ated truck be­cause it doesn’t get enough meat and dairy prod­ucts from su­per­mar­kets or other pri­vate en­ter­prise to war­rant it. He also de­scribed the cost as pro­hib­i­tive.

Truck­ing com­pa­nies say the pur­chase price is roughly in the $150,000 to $200,000 range. You can rent such a truck for about $1,000-a-week or around $200-a-day, but most food banks do not have that kind of money. They are run by vol­un­teers and op­er­ate on shoe­string bud­gets.

Ac­cord­ing to Wal­ters, our food banks are mostly “run (from) church base­ments.” So, they are small and do not have the space to ac­com­mo­date the fridges and freez­ers needed to keep food healthy enough to dis­trib­ute to clients.

It is re­gret­table when some, per­haps most, of our ap­prox­i­mate 54 food banks lack the space or the ca­pac­ity to of­fer noth­ing more than a bland diet of non-per­ish­able pack­aged and canned goods. It is here that food banks can help them­selves by look­ing for cor­po­rate spon­sor­ships, govern­ment grants or tap­ping into the mil­lions of dol­lars the Wal­mart Foun­da­tion has, so they can move to a big­ger space or buy re­frig­er­ated units to im­prove qual­ity.

I be­lieve the Com­mu­nity Food Shar­ing As­so­ci­a­tion should lobby more ag­gres­sively to sup­ply all food banks in the prov­ince with meats and dairy prod­ucts. Wal­ters says a re­frig­er­ated truck is not nec­es­sary, but it may be a case of get­ting the truck and the meats, eggs and cheeses will fol­low. The pur­chase of a sec­ond-hand model may be an op­tion and if he hasn’t al­ready done so, he might try the garages to see what leads, if any, they will give. He could also lobby for govern­ment sub­si­dies.

Su­per­mar­kets and other re­tail out­lets, as well as their cus­tomers are the big­gest donors to food banks and that is com­mend­able. It would be even more com­mend­able if we could get more nu­tri­tious foods onto peo­ple’s plates. Most com­mend­able of all would be for those who are wast­ing food to stop it. What you are chuck­ing that could help feed the roughly 23,000 peo­ple in the prov­ince who rely on public char­ity to sur­vive.

So, what is the best op­tion? Well, that would be to give peo­ple money enough to buy what they want and not ac­cept what others think they need.

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