Sylvain CharleboisMany people claim the term’ food waste’ should never be used and there’s some truth to that. Food is precious and is always of value to someone, somewhere.

Associating food with the term ‘waste’ can only imply that food can become worthless. We can compost it, use it to produce biofuels and, of course, repurpose it or even rescue it. It’s not really wasted.

Since food prices are progressively increasing, the entire food supply chain is empowering consumers to rescue food more than ever. Yes, rescue food.

Grocers are no longer putting a rack of shelves in some obscure spot in the grocery store to sell off discounted food products that are about to expire. As you walk into any grocery store, it’s now common to see discounted food products displayed prominently in a busy section of the store. These discounts can be substantial, ranging from 25 to 50 per cent in some cases.

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Many have noticed that the “enjoy tonight” deals are becoming more common, especially at the meat counter. While grocers can reduce food spoilage, consumers now have an opportunity to rescue food from an almost certain fate in a landfill.

According to a recent survey by the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, in partnership with marketer Caddle, 39.6 per cent of Canadians are purchasing discounted products – with expiry or best-before dates within a few days of purchase – more often than in 2020. A total of 26.9 per cent of Canadians are buying products with the “enjoy tonight” label more often than in 2020, according to the survey.

The pay-what-you-feel movement is also taking off. The Food Stash Foundation, a Vancouver-based charity, launched the Rescued Food Market at Olympic Village in the city on Oct. 1. The group rescues well over 60,000 pounds of food per month, which would have otherwise gone to landfills.

The Rescued Food Market will stock perishable foods, including produce, meat, cheese, milk and eggs. Inventories in the store come from grocery stores, wholesalers and farms. The store encourages everyone to donate or pay what they believe the food they’re taking is worth.

Another location in Toronto, called Feed it Forward, a pay-what-you-can grocery store, cafe and bakery on Dundas Street, just opened a few days ago with the same operating model. It’s all about retailing food, repurposing and reducing spoilage.

We expect more of these types of stores to open in coming months.

Can’t go to these locations? No problem. Your cellphone has you covered. Apps like Flashfood and FoodHero will tell you about the daily deals in your neighbourhood, regardless of where you are in the country. Some discounts can be as high as 50 per cent.

These apps are useful portals, providing consumers with substantial bargains while helping the environment – if you’re willing to compromise on freshness, of course. But for many consumers, compromising on quality and freshness is still not an option.

But food rescuing is far from new. Second Harvest, the largest food rescue program in the country, has been at this for 36 years. It redistributes enough food to make more than 60,000 meals a day.

The issues of food waste and food rescuing have since attracted attention for environmental and food security reasons.

Second Harvest’s greatest achievement has been to create competition for itself, getting more people involved in valuing all the food we have while eliminating the stigma of food waste. Saving food is now a cool thing, which was not the case in 1985 when Second Harvest started.

More than 35.5 million tonnes of perfectly good food is thrown out each year in Canada, enough to fill 319,000 Boeing 787 Dreamliners.

Consumers are responsible for 48 per cent of all the food wasted – more than farmers, processors and grocers. The thought of all the work and resources invested in producing this food, only to be thrown away, is causing consumers to change their food choices. It’s only fitting to see consumers as the best potential food rescuers.

Instead of hoarding food, consumers should be thinking about doing the opposite. Buying food as you need it will certainly get you to save and rescue more food. With current food economic trends, consumers will be rewarded for patience and for using multiple points of purchase.

With the Thanksgiving weekend coming up, we have a lot to be thankful for, despite and because of what we’ve been through in the last several months.

But our food budgets have been challenged of late and food is only getting more expensive – except if you seek out food-rescuing opportunities.

Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is senior director of the agri-food analytics lab and a professor in food distribution and policy at Dalhousie University.

Sylvain is one of our Thought Leaders. For interview requests, click here.


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