Good Food Challenge fosters awareness of everyday food waste

·5 min read

We all know the feeling of rummaging deep into the fridge and finding some long-forgotten food item we wish we hadn’t. Our first instinct is to throw it into the green bin, but how many of us stop to think that better buying habits might have helped us avoid that slimy head of lettuce or mouldering pint of strawberries in the first place?

That’s just what the York Region Food Network is hoping to achieve with their Good Food Challenge.

The goal of the Good Food Challenge, which runs for the month of February, is to not let food go to waste. An admirable and achievable goal, but one which the York Region Food Network (YRFN) is incentivizing with weekly prizes.

According to the YRFN, the amount of green bin waste collected in York Region has been on the rise since the start of the pandemic. More people are eating at home, more time is being spent in the kitchen preparing meals and, they say, you’ve probably noticed the amount of money you’re now spending on groceries has been going up in the new normal.

The average household, they say, throws away an estimated $1,500 worth of food per year, and the four-week Challenge will offer tips on planning, organizing, shopping, storing, cooking and composting food, as well as how to prepare meals “so you can waste less, enjoy more, and help protect the environment.”

“Some of the areas where there is the most food waste in households really comes from purchasing too much and disposing of leftovers, not using what you have, making too much food and not using that,” says Marissa Wiltshire of the YRFN. “What we often see with food waste is it is not the junk food or the candy or sweets that tend to get thrown out; it tends to be the breads, the fruits and the veggies. It is people who might be a little optimistic at the start of the week, but the week gets away from them and they don’t have the time to use it or preserve it. It’s the heads of lettuce being thrown out, whole peppers, all the things that could be avoided.”

The Good Food Challenge is not new territory for the YRFN. The Aurora-based organization runs community gardens throughout York Region. They also offer kitchen programs where all waste is composted. For YRFN Executive Director Kate Greavette, it is part of their system to “use every little piece of scrap.”

“The more that we do that, the more we have community coming to us and asking about composting, and what they should be doing with their skins and peels – how do I make soup stock?” she says. “Over the years, we have created this really interesting space where people are sharing a lot of waste reduction tips and also inspiring each other.”

For the YRFN, that was a “huge motivation” in encouraging the public at large to embrace these principles at home.

“With the pandemic, we’re encouraged to go out once a week to grocery shop and people are doing a lot more food preparation at home, they are eating together at home more and [are doing what we have been trying to advocate for years people have just had to do because of the pandemic,” says Ms. Greavette. “As a result of that, we feel this is such a prime time to really give people more tools and more information so they are inspired and motivated to keep this going even beyond the pandemic.”

Registration for the Good Food Challenge is on now at yrfn.ca/the-good-food-challenge. Come February 1, registered participants will receive an introductory email that will include some questions to help you “reflect on how you currently shop, prepare, and use your food, including how much of it goes to waste.”

Through February 28, those taking on the challenge will receive weekly tips along with activities designed to “set you on your way to reducing waste and feeling more organized and prepared in your kitchen. Weekly prizes will be awarded with a final Grand Prize to one winner valued at $250. Participants must be 18 years of age or older to participate.

“Whether it is meal planning or even just taking stock of what is in your cupboards, rather than constantly making sure your cupboards are full, really shop your cupboards, look in your freezer, look in your fridge,” says Ms. Wiltshire. “Whatever comes in first goes out first. I think the organization of that is missing a lot of the time and I think that providing those tools and some of the resources to share how easy it is to actually do these things and how it takes just a little bit of time, you actually end up saving so much more time, whether it is shopping, you’re saving money on your grocery bills at the end of the day, and you’re using up everything and feeling better about that.”

Adds Ms. Greavette: “What we’re all going to be shocked by is people tend to under-report the amount of waste and the amount of garbage. I think one of the really conscious efforts in this challenge is for people to be tracking themselves on a regular basis on how much they are actually throwing out, what is in the green bin, what is the quantity and the types of foods. I think one of the challenges that everyone is going to have is holding ourselves accountable, and the challenges of being surprised by the amount we actually all waste.”

Brock Weir, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Auroran