Cold Star Freight Systems Inc. is transforming food destined for the landfill into opportunities for people in need to access healthy snacks and meals
›› David Segal
Jennifer Hawes, co-owner of Cold Star, has seized an opportunity to divert healthy, high quality food from being dumped in the landfill and instead have it donated to the kitchens of neighbourhood houses to support their programs. Since 2004, the Community Food Project has been working to reclaim, store and deliver a monthly shipment of fresh produce and high protein foods (such as cheese, dairy and meats) to the Coalition of Neighbourhood Houses.
The Coalition is a group of non-profit community-based organizations, including Fernwood Neighbourhood Resource Group (Fernwood NRG), that is committed to healthy children, youth, families and individuals. Their geographical range of service includes Sooke, Saanich, West Shore, Victoria and Esquimalt. Neighbourhood Houses use these food donations to help create healthy meals and snacks for children, low or no-income parents and families, youth and senior citizens; collectively serving more than 8500 people each month.
We are not talking about food marginally fit for consumption. Quite to the contrary, the donations are high quality, restaurant grade food, that for a few unfortunate reasons, including over shipment, mislabeling, or damaged packaging are destined to the landfill were it not for Cold Star’s generosity and initiative. Hawes explains that since the beginning, she’s personally been inspecting all the donated food, ensuring the food meets her own personal standards of freshness and quality, and if the monthly donation requires additional top ups, this bill is paid courtesy of Cold Star.
“Having this donation stretches the food dollars so we can support more people and families.”
– Judy Swanston, Fernwood NRG chef
Perfectly good food dumped in the landfill is a pervasive problem not isolated to Southern Vancouver Island. According to Statistics Canada, about 40 per cent of all the food produced in Canada goes to waste, amounting to almost $27 billion a year. According to a report on food waste in Canada, this amount is greater than the total food purchased by Canadians in restaurants in 2009. The David Suzuki Foundation explains that when we “toss food, all the resources to grow, ship and produce it get chucked, too, including massive volumes of water. In the US alone, the amount of water loss from food waste is like leaving the tap running and pouring 40 trillion liters of water down the drain.” Another staggering fact is the contribution to greenhouse gases caused by rotting food. When food doesn’t make it to our tables and is instead sent to the landfill, it contributes to the production of methane gas, an emission that traps more heat in our atmosphere than carbon dioxide.
According to Danielle Stevenson, hired by the Coalition to make recommendations on how to enhance the community specific and collective impact of their Food Security initiatives, Neighborhood Houses are noting a dramatic rise in guest attendance at meals and drop-in programs, and program participants telling agency staff they do not have enough money for food and are stressed by the lack of time, equipment, and/or skills to cook healthy food on a limited budget. Thus community need is twofold: For hot meals, snacks and emergency foods, and for support in accessing and cooking healthy foods on a limited budget.
Clearly, reclaiming and diverting food from the landfill is of critical importance for social, environmental and economic reasons. At a time when neighbourhood houses are seeing increasing need and shrinking budgets why is the Community Food Project a celebrated anomaly as opposed to an expected norm? Hawes explains that the biggest barrier to donating food is the liability risk in our highly litigious society. For most companies, the fear of being sued outweighs the abundant benefits of donating their ‘waste’ food. Further, the steps needed to mitigate these risks take time, money, and commitment, and that appears to be asking too much for most organizations.
Hawes is no stranger to the importance of food security in creating a healthy community. Having spent ten years as the Family Centre Coordinator at Saanich Neighbourhood Place, she knows very well the strain a family can face during lean times. Subsequently, programming that provides healthy snacks and full meals, in addition to emergency food bank style services, has the ability to radically alter the reality of a family in need. Following the creation of her own food hauling business, it was an easy decision to seize the opportunity to be of service to the wider community. The total donations of 50-60 thousand snacks and 30-50 thousand full meals (carbohydrate, protein and starch) is estimated to be worth a staggering $97,000 per year. This includes the in-kind contribution of storage and delivery on top of the value of food donations and top ups.
Fernwood NRG’s programs certainly owe a lot to the Community Food Project. According to Lee Herrin, Executive Director, the Cold Star food donation almost doubles their food budget. Since June 2013, their newly created Monday evening Fernwood Family Dinner has served 1593 people healthy meals. In total, Fernwood NRG produces about 900 snacks and meals per week, using a mix of purchased and donated food. According to their chef, Judy Swanston, “Having this donation stretches the food dollars so we can support more people and families.”
The Community Food Project and its collaborative food recovery model makes sense in what is otherwise a nonsensical commercial food system where perfectly good food is shipped to the landfill. Cold Star is certainly setting an example of how thoughtful actions can make a profound difference for the better.