Jasmine Wang remembers the day in Grade 8, back home in Alberta, when she saw her local Tim Hortons toss out a box of perfectly good donuts.
“It shocked me. I was taken aback,” said Wang, a first-year Computer Science and Arts & Humanities student. “Why isn’t that food going elsewhere? I never spoke up. You never feel you can do anything about it at that age.”
Flash forward five years. Wang, along with friends Olivia Ly, a second-year Science student, and Amy Wang, a second-year Computer Science student, are now doing something about it.
The trio recently launched reHarvest, an organization that takes safe, nutritious food otherwise bound for local retailers’ dumpsters and redirects it into community-oriented food programs, where it can be used to teach children and seniors how to prepare healthy food.
The average Canadian supermarket will throw out more than 30 per cent of its produce every year due to low aesthetic appeal in order to maintain picture-perfect displays.
“We were reading how big the problem was – a number like that really shocked us. We felt there wasn’t enough being done,” Amy Wang said. “Because of that, it pushed us to start something in the community. We knew the problem, but not what the best solution was.”
The three spoke to organizations that promote food security in London about how they can best support the community. One idea was to transfer food between grocery stores and bakeries and allow local food education programs to utilize it for their daily programs. The three made their first deliveries earlier this week.
“Businesses and organizations have been surprisingly receptive to us,” Amy Wang said. “It’s empowering to see they care about the solution we are building and hate to see food being thrown out.”
Thus far, the University Community Centre’s Grocery Checkout, Western Fair Farmers’ Markets, Masonville Farmers’ Markets, Old East Village Grocer, La Noisette Village Bakery and Havaris Produce have agreed to donate to the cause.
Current charity recipients include the London InterCommunity Health Centre and South London Neighbourhood Resource Centre.
“We’ve spoken with local food working groups, the National Zero Waste Council, the mayor and local businesses,” Jasmine Wang said. “We want to make sure we’re integrating well into the current food-distribution model and shifting systems in a sustainable way.”
With one in eight Canadian families struggling to put food on the table, this means 26,000 London residents don’t have reliable access to affordable, healthy meals, according to a report from the London Poverty Research Centre. This, in turn, leads to a number of chronic health conditions.
Food waste also carries a heavy toll on the environment, with organic matter making up one third of landfill waste in Canada. With reHarvest, it becomes a win-win scenario, an opportunity to empower the London community and protect the environment.
“In addition to being students, we’re also citizens in the community. There is a sense of ownership that goes with it,” Ly said. “While our studies are important, it doesn’t define who we are, nor the contributions we can make. We see this as something important; it’s a chance for us to learn outside our classes.
“Being in university is about learning as much as possible. This is an area of huge skill building for us. It’s an experience we want to have and we have the energy to put into it right now. Food is the intersection of so many concepts, but it all boils down to the social determinants of health and what sort of community we envision as London’s future.”
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