Rhino's Ramblings: Waste Not, Want Not
I was out having lunch about four months back with a friend who wanted to talk to me about what he saw as a great failing in our community when it came to feeding those who could not afford food.
We talked about how people were going hungry in the Friendly City despite public and private efforts to ensure that that wasn’t happening. I found it very difficult to believe we could have hungry people in Moose Jaw. That it was just a stereotype or those people who were hungry were that way because it was their own fault for getting into predicament they happened to be in.
This was just one thing my friend wanted to tell me but his real concern dealt with waste and perfectly good food being tossed into the trash.
He spoke about a recent report into food wasted by Canadians which ended up in the trash and got carted off to the landfill. He wanted me to look into it then write a column about it. So I thought why not? Are we wasting just as much food in this city as elsewhere?
In the March 27th report, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation found that Canadians, on average, waste 396 kilograms or 896 pounds of food are wasted annually; most of it at the consumer level. This waste was typified as having an economic as well as an environmental cost.
But it got me thinking; how much food is wasted at the commercial level? And with there being such heavy competition in the restaurant business in Moose Jaw, is it even possible that large amounts of perfectly good food are being tossed into the trash?
So I started to ask around and what I discovered is that it is, in fact, true.
I spoke to a former staff member at a sandwich shop who told me the company policy was that the bread they baked had to be fresh and that meant when it was 12 hours old it simply got tossed into the trash; up to 50 to 60 sandwich buns simply tossed away. To help cut this loss they baked less buns but in a business so unpredictable and competitive it was difficult to match consumer demand so they finally changed their policy to say all buns had to be 24 hours old before they were tossed.
I actually asked the then manager about it who initially told me it was because of a new recipe and flour. When I reminded him that preservatives were bad for you he admitted it was just a silent policy change.
Sadly though the bread couldn’t be donated to the food bank due to legal concerns.
As I asked around the city I received similar responses from other restaurants as well: perfectly good food was simply being tossed into the trash. I wasn’t talking about the food people left on their plates but rather food already prepared, that if I had literally shown up a couple of minutes earlier, I could have bought but since it was closing time it was being tossed in the garbage, as they don’t sell leftovers.
Of course not all restaurants were guilty of this and some donated edible food to the local food bank but I can assure you there is enough of them out there who do that that a person could live off of it.
At the retail level, the best before dates are set by the manufacturer but what do they really indicate? Is the food still edible?
If you check the Canadian government web-site you will find that what the Best Before Date tells you is that the food, if kept at optimum storage conditions, is guaranteed at optimum quality until that date. It has nothing to do with food safety as such.
As I was researching this column, two events sent me into thinking something incredible but do we actually throw enough food away that someone could actually live healthy off of it?
At a fast food restaurant I showed up late one night just as the doors were closing and I wanted to buy chicken. They told me they had already cashed out, so couldn’t sell me any. I said damn and then they did an extraordinary thing and said I could have it for free as it was headed for the trash. There was nothing wrong with, it they had simply just cashed out and were unable to ring anything through the register.
So I got an idea and spoke to employees at other restaurants and a couple of grocery stores and found out they also did the same thing. Good food one minute went into the trash literally a moment later.
I thought about it and made a deal that they would give me the still great quality and edible food (not table scraps) to see if I could actually live off of it and for how long? Nothing was to be set aside, especially for me and if it was on the way to the Food Bank it was off limits.
From the first week of May, until mid June, I carried out my experiment and it exceeded my expectations. I had pizza, chicken, Chinese, salads, vegetables, spaghetti, ribs and even lobster.
All items which these restaurants would have sold to me two minutes earlier. There is nothing wrong with it, except that it would have been considered leftovers for most of us. Something a restaurant cannot sell but also cannot give away due to fears of litigation.
From my grocery connections I received everything from milk, cottage cheese, yogurt, cereal, Kraft Dinner, frozen hams right up to a quarter of beef which accidentally hung for 18 days instead of 14 before they cut it, so it was headed for the trash. There was nothing whatsoever wrong with the meat.
During this time I kept a very close watch on my bills and in six weeks my food bill was just over $20 but that was because I still went out for coffee.
To tell you truthfully I ate better than I did when I went shopping and paid for it.
It all left me thinking that with such programs as Hunger In Moose Jaw and the Food Bank there has to be some way to get this food to them. Is there some way to get past the litigation barrier? Or do we continue to toss good quality edible food out into the trash?