Opinion: All Canadians can help build a better food safety net

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A startup called Flashfood has started partnering with Toronto’s Loblaws locations to sell salvaged foods at bulk discounts to consumers via its app’s push notifications. But the food saved from these initiatives still represents a tiny fraction of Canada’s food waste. The Canadian government can lead on this issue if it banned food from being trashed at supermarkets, similar to established “zero waste” policies in Montreal and numerous European countries.

Encourage Local Production

Fresh food provides more nutrition than packaged food, yet only 40 per cent of supplies distributed by food banks is fresh. Food Banks Canada recognizes the value of local foods, leading the “+Fresh” Program to support gardening initiatives nationwide. Now more than ever, home and community gardening can be especially helpful. Food banks can pilot such programs in partnership with local gardens and shops. One shining example is the University of Alberta’s Community Garden, which brings the campus together to grow local vegetables and donates excess to food banks. As Canadians grapple with the mental-health effects of social distancing, local food growth can also reduce depression and anxiety. Government policies such as B.C.’s 25-per-cent tax credit for local farmers can help not only tackle food security but also protect agricultural jobs.

Food security is a wicked problem, and food banks have always helped make ends meet. Tamisan Bencz-Knight, partnerships manager at Edmonton Food Bank, says that food banks rely on three pillars: “food, funds, and friends.” Funds are already being sought, with millions raised in donations nationwide. But during Canada’s ongoing recession, our food banks need non-monetary support too. Whether it is farmers, supermarket managers, government leaders or home gardeners, Canadians in all walks of life can make a difference. With strategies like waste diversion and local production, we can make our food safety net more resilient for generations to come.

Reshma Sirajee is a former employee of the University of Alberta’s Campus Food Bank. Kabir Nadkarni is a sustainability advocate at the University of Alberta. Both are alumni of the Peter Lougheed Leadership College.

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