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ON CAMPUS: Loyalist provides food for thought

July 21, 2015

As you prepare for another delicious barbecue season, there are a few statistics you may want to keep in mind. As much as Canadians love food, it turns out we also waste a staggering amount of it. Up to 40 percent of our food is lost from farm to fork, with 50 percent of that waste taking place in our homes.

Forget the trimmings from your red pepper or the rotten banana in your fruit bowl; this statistic pertains to perfectly edible food. To make matters worse, not everyone is getting enough to eat. Hastings and Prince Edward Counties have the second highest rate of food insecurity in Ontario, affecting one in nine households. How is it that our most vulnerable residents lack affordable and healthy food while so much of it is thrown away?

That question was at the heart of the Canadian documentary Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story. The film follows filmmakers and food lovers Jen and Grant as they embark on a food rescue journey, vowing to exclusively eat discarded food for six months. They find that at the root of the issue is our quest for ‘perfect’ produce, increasing portion sizes at restaurants and at home, confusion over ‘best before’ dates (an indicator of quality, not safety) and a disconnect between supply and demand resulting in vast amounts of edible food bypassing those who need it most.

With food insecurity becoming such a pressing issue in our own backyard, Loyalist College’s Sustainability Committee chose to sponsor Just Eat It at the 2015 Belleville Downtown DocFest International Documentary Film Festival, February 27 to March 1. Scenes of dumpsters filled to the brim with packaged food were met by audible gasps; a strong indication that the film’s ‘waste not, want not’ message resonated with the capacity crowd. Following the screening was an inspiring talk with food rescuers from Kingston, Ontario who cycled across North America twice, fueled solely by food rescued from dumpsters. They implored the audience to be part of the solution by joining the food rescue movement, and even brought along their rescued goodies to show how easy it is to take part.

“The film really opened my eyes to the extent of the food waste problem and I wasn’t alone in that realization,” said Loyalist President and CEO Maureen Piercy. “You could feel the energy in the room. It’s clear our community is engaged on this topic and wants to take action. It’s now a matter of helping people take the first step.”

Food is a topic that we can all relate to and at Loyalist we are working hard to respect it. Our food services provider, Aramark, has a comprehensive inventory system to ensure they only buy what they need and food is eaten, not wasted. Organic scraps from the kitchens and Residence are taken to a farm in Stirling where they are converted to clean, green energy in an anaerobic digester. Education is our purpose and, leading by example, we hope to inspire our students to carry these lessons forward to their future careers.

Loyalist Culinary students are prime candidates for leading the industry towards better practices. In the fast-paced world of restaurants, recycling is not always top of mind, so convenience is key. The College kitchen work areas have been designed to accommodate easy recycling and compost collection, enabling students to divert everything from egg shells to chicken bones. Students are taught that being vigilant about food waste isn’t just good for the planet; it is good business. A chef with an eye on the bottom line embraces buying practices that keep supply and demand in close balance and encourages techniques that avoid waste.

Sometimes, these practices are downright trendy. Loyalist’s Gastronomy course, for instance, introduces students to ‘nose-to-tail’ cooking – a food movement that makes use of every part of the animal in creative ways, so nothing is wasted.

So what can you do to improve food security in your community and reduce waste? The opportunities are boundless. Support local food programs, take part in the growing network of community gardens, share your cooking skills, and above all, embrace this simple call to action: love food, not waste.

For more information on Loyalist’s campus sustainability efforts, visit loyalistcollege.com/about-loyalist/sustainability.

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