Food waste has become a colossal catastrophe during the pandemic, and that’s not OK with Joanna Sable, a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, restaurant consultant and Instagram influencer whose handles include @best_beforedate and @joannasable. Queen of the #endfoodwaste hashtag, Joanna has used social media to increase awareness to the extensive amount of food wasted throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
Even before the pandemic, 58 per cent of food was wasted or lost in Canada. That’s 35.5 million tonnes of food.
What’s the deal with food waste?
It’s a staggering statistic that many Canadians aren’t aware of, despite how much we all contribute to it – 21 per cent of food waste in Canada is made up of household waste.
The numbers may come as a shock. How is this happening? Where does food waste occur?
Food waste occurs all along the food supply chain – from the farm straight to your household.
It happens when there’s a shortage of workers on a farm and crops aren’t harvested or when perfectly good produce is rejected because it doesn’t meet visual requirements.
Food waste is bruised fruit left behind in bins at the grocery store and eggs that are taken off the shelf on their best before date, despite being safe to consume.
It’s leftovers on our plate at a restaurant that we send back instead of taking home, and food we scrape into the green bin instead of saving it for later.
On many fronts, food waste is a serious problem for Canadians.
Why is food waste bad?
For one, food waste is bad for the environment. Food that’s incorrectly put in the garbage ends up in landfills where it produces greenhouse gases. According to a study by the National Zero Waste Council, Canada’s household food waste is equal to 9.8 million tonnes of CO2 – the same amount as 2.1 million cars on the road!
Many Canadians are also used to having consistent access to food for reasonable prices, year-round. However, while food is wasted across the country, there are four million Canadians struggling to access healthy food. 1.4 million of those are children, according to the Second Harvest 2019 report. That report also found that of those 35.5 million tonnes of food lost and wasted, roughly one-third is avoidable food waste which could be rerouted to support people in our communities.
Joanna’s mission to save the food
Redirecting some of the food waste is an issue that Joanna Sable has been tackling throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.
As a chef and restaurant consultant, Joanna is very familiar with the issue of food waste. Her mother owns Sable & Rosenfeld foods, a gourmet company which has been around since 1970. Her family background along with her mother’s passion for food and no-waste policy have influenced her own views and behaviours around food.
Last March when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Joanna saw her colleagues in the restaurant greatly affected by the province’s declaration of a state of emergency.
Restaurants were faced with huge amounts of food loss. “I would say that 99 per cent of all chefs, all people in the food industry, hate waste,” says Joanna. “It makes them sick to their stomach, it upsets them greatly. So, I was running around while everyone else was freaking out, gathering food and bringing it from one place to a shelter. Shelters were becoming overwhelmed with food. It was insane. It was seriously, seriously crazy. And so that’s how it started,” she says, referring to her project, @best_beforedate.
Sowing Seeds of Hope
Within a week of the state of emergency being declared, Joanna began delivering food to Seeds of Hope Foundation, a private charity in Toronto that runs transitional homes, creates creative spaces and provides free meals, among other social initiatives aimed to enhance livelihood and create opportunities. Seeds of Hope Foundation provides meals 24/7 and sends meal boxes to people who can’t make it out to their locations.
To create more awareness, Joanna started an Instagram page and named it @best_beforedate. The name is referring to the misleading nature of “best before” dates which are often confused for expiration dates and cause consumers and retailers to toss out perfectly good food. Joanna aims to help people throughout the pandemic but also to tackle the greater conversation around food waste in North America.
It’s now been almost a year and @best_beforedate continues to gain momentum. Joanna has partnered with restaurants like Pukka, Grande Cheese and Goûter Bakery among many others to facilitate the donation of food to Seeds of Hope Foundation. They have also worked with produce suppliers like Leonard’s Wholesale and farm markets like Food 4 Life Market and Muddy Crops.
What’s in a best before date?
Another barrier to resolving food waste that Joanna points out is that Canadians simply don’t know how to prepare food that is nearing its best before date.
“The other day I was at Longo’s and they had beautiful artichokes in their clearance section for just $1.49 per package,” she says. “But if you don’t know what to do with an artichoke it doesn’t help you.” Joanna says Canadians could benefit from classes on cooking and canning food. These classes are available at some community centers and grocery stores. “It’s happening but it needs to happen even more,” she says.
We asked Joanna for her top five tips for food nearing or after its best before date.
- Don’t dismiss browning vegetables and fruit.
Too often, we dismiss fruits and vegetables with brown spots on them. Joanna points out that if a head of cauliflower is on sale and only has a few brown spots on it, all you need to do is cut off the brown spots and make a cauliflower mash.
Brown bananas are also delicious and nutritious. Simply freeze brown bananas to make your favourite food from banana ice cream to banana bread.
- Make vegetable soup!
Save your veggie scraps! Joanna keeps bags of vegetable scraps accumulated throughout the week in her freezer and once a week makes soup using those scraps and some bones. She peels fresh vegetables as well, boils the peels with the bones and then cleans it out, leaving a flavourful broth. She gives the scraps to her pet dog, tosses the bones out and adds the freshly cut vegetables for a tasty, low-waste soup. “When I make soup, the only thing that goes in my garbage is bones,” Joanna states proudly.
- Pre-marinate chicken to prevent freezer burn
This is a cost-saving tip Joanna gave to her kids when they went off to university. Joanna suggests buying sauces on sale and using them to marinate chicken before freezing. Her kids would squeeze some teriyaki sauce into a freezer bag with two chicken legs. This is both a time-saver and a great way to preserve the quality of the chicken. The liquid around the chicken protects it from freezer burn and, once thawed, the chicken is pre-marinated and ready to go!
- Keep your cheese ends
Instead of throwing out the ends of cheeses, Joanna suggests popping them in the freezer and saving them up. When you have enough, grate it all up and make a killer mac and cheese. Parmesan rinds also go great in soups and sauces.
- Save stale bread for a savoury meal
Usually if stale bread is used, it’s for a sweet bread pudding. Joanna suggests switching it up with a strata – a savoury bread pudding. With a strata you soak the bread then layer it with cheese, fried vegetables and sausages then bake it for the ultimate comfort dish.
Farmwork to Feed Canada (F2FC) is a national volunteer not-for-profit initiative by Canadian communication professionals, students, and recent graduates in communications. F2FC collaborates with farmers, and agri-businesses amid COVID-19 pandemic-related challenges to Canada’s food supply and food security, to engage Canadians, pro bono, with compelling stories about their food system and build support for Canada’s farmers, food producers, and their essential skilled workers.