Food waste is a major problem in Canada.
In 2008, the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development reported that Canada generated more municipal waste per capita than any of its peer countries. This means that food that is oftentimes perfectly good is sent to landfills — a massive 777 kilograms of it per person, according to a study done by Ian Murray & Company Ltd.
And in all of Canada, Alberta performs the worst.
Food can be wasted during production, processing, distribution, retail or consumption stages, magnifying the problem and making it difficult to find a solution.
Audra Stevenson, interim CEO of the Leftovers Foundation, feels that Alberta struggles more than its neighbours because it is operating from a place of such abundance. That’s where the foundation comes in.
Operating in Calgary, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Airdrie and Hinton, Alta., the foundation hopes to address this issue, rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste. They partner with various local restaurants and grocers to redirect their unused goods to a service agency.
In 2020, the Leftovers Foundation had 166 food donors who provided over 200,000 meals to Calgarians.
“I would say the Leftovers Foundation works at the intersection of food rescue and food access,” says Stevenson.
One of the goals of the foundation is to increase food access but this wouldn’t be possible without food donors. These people will contact the Leftovers Foundation when they have a donation they want to make. From there, it’s in the hands of volunteers — quite literally.
Volunteers like David Ramsey are in charge of collecting the food and delivering it to service agencies. Ramsey has long been intrigued about food waste, recently retired, he now uses his passion to make a difference. His work for the foundation takes him all across Calgary.
“I’ve delivered to a service agency in the southeast, a Sikh community center in the northeast. We have scales we take with us so we can kind of keep track,” says Ramsey. “There is a local coffee shop that I do on foot because it’s just north of me and down from the Calgary Community Fridge.”
One service agency that works closely with the foundation is the Dashmesh Cultural Centre, an organization that helps people struggling to make ends meet. Simran Singh can be found in their facility creating warm meals for others.
“It’s important that we give out food as much as we can to as many people that need it as possible,” says Singh.
Singh knows that there are many reasons someone might need extra help, even if it’s just a hot meal. Refugees, single parents, people struggling with employment, illness or even their living situation can all benefit from the redirected food.
“Sometimes there isn’t enough food to go around,” says Singh. “Why waste this when it can be served to the people that might need the food?”
Another service agency that receives frequent donations from the Leftovers Foundation is the Women’s Centre of Calgary. With this donated food, the centre is able to put together emergency food hampers for women in tight spots. Diane Altwasser, operations manager, appreciates the relationship between the centre and the Leftovers Foundation.
“They ensure that food is going to people in need rather than being wasted,” says Altwasser. “I think it’s great, they’re really filling in that gap and helping to distribute food to people who are in need.”
While Altwasser knows that this alone won’t solve the food scarcity problem, she thinks it’s a step in the right direction. Stevenson thinks what will make more of a difference is the involvement of the government through policy change. She also wants to see more commitment from larger players and distributors to fight food waste earlier on in the production process.
In the meantime, the Leftovers Foundation recently secured a grant from the Government of Alberta to expand their foundation into new communities across the province. They have plans to work in Medicine Hat and Lethbridge and hope to establish programs that serve those communities well.