Leftovers YEG lays its roots in Edmonton by preventing food waste
Roughly one-third of food produced worldwide is never eaten. This happens with each step food takes to get to your table, including harvesting, processing, transport, suppliers, and storing in your kitchen. Food waste is no small thing—it costs Canada $31 billion annually.
Calgary resident Lourdes Juan decided to improve these stats by founding Calgary’s Leftovers Foundation in 2012. She says she stumbled upon her solution rather inadvertently while picking up a 200-pound load of unsold bread from Cobs with her cousin to deliver to Calgary’s Drop-In and Rehab Centre. “They said that because they serve 3,000 meals a day, the food would be gone by the next day,” Juan says.
This startling realization immediately prompted her to call around to other businesses in the city to ask if they had excess, unsold food that was still perfectly edible, just not reaching hungry mouths. She called grocers, bakers, restaurateurs and before she knew it, Juan had built a sizeable list of vendors willing to donate their leftovers.
Today, Leftovers rescues about 4,000 pounds per week of food from 55 different vendors, which is delivered to a list of 40 service agencies through a network of volunteer delivery drivers. Juan says there is now potential to move beyond a not-for-profit in Calgary and towards a social enterprise structure that is self-sustaining within the next year to ensure the food keeps flowing.
To do this, her plan is to pair local restaurateurs with an amount of leftover food each week to be created into meals and food items that can then be sold. A percentage of the profits would go to Leftovers to support their charitable operations and, potentially, even staff.
“If you look at the statistics, over four million Canadians don’t know where they’re gonna get their next meal from,” Juan says. “I’m just putting two and two together.”
This time last year the Leftovers Foundation brought their system to Edmonton with the help of a volunteer organization called Global Shapers, who took on the cause for a whole year. Now that its first year has come and gone, Leftovers YEG stands on a firm foundation of seven vendors and six service agencies rescuing at least 1,000 pounds of food a week.
Daniel Huber, who has an extensive background in the restaurant industry in Edmonton, is heading Leftovers YEG. With plans to roll out a hamper-based delivery system alongside the standard excess deliveries, Huber hopes to hit two birds with one stone and knock out a lot of the food insecurity in the city.
“The optics of having homeless people downtown starving for food when across the street we have restaurants we know are throwing out food—I can’t wrap my brain around it,” Huber says.
Along with delivery systems, he plans to begin educating the general public about how to not waste food in their homes. In the several steps food makes to get to your dinner table, the highest amount—nearly half—of all food waste actually happens in our homes.
“The reality is, in the course of a week, I throw away food and I’m a chef and I have opened restaurants and I have 20 years experience,” Huber says. “So if I’ve struggled, the average person who may not have the same skill set is, of course, going to struggle.”
But Juan and Huber aren’t the only ones working on fixing the problem of food insecurity in Canada. University of Alberta students Ria Rana and Mursal Khedri started a project while attending the Peter Lougheed Leadership College that has the potential to streamline Leftovers YEG’s process.
Both being from first-generation immigrant families, Rana and Khedri always saw a nutritious gap in the food that was donated to them, which often consisted mainly of sugary pastries and carb-based foods. With the knowledge that this problem still hadn’t been fixed by the time they had reached university, Rana and Khedri set their minds to developing a solution.
“Think of it as a Kijiji for surplus food,” says Khedri of their platform titled Our Servings. “Charities get a first pick, but if they don’t need it and say, ‘no, we’re at full capacity,’ then it gets bounced off to somebody based on geolocation.”
The two women are focusing a lot of their efforts on contacting farms and grocery stores to ensure fresh, perishable food is accessible to those that need it.
“We found that a lot of people, they don’t know that the food’s there, and other people are like well, I have the food but I don’t know who wants it,” Khedri says. “It’s a question mark on both ends.”
Rana says they want to address the communication barrier first. After that, Our Servings has plans to focus on delivery and transportation systems, similar to Leftovers YEG.
With a successful test-run in hand, the pair recently started a GoFundMe page to crowdsource the remainder of the funds needed to develop a full app and desktop version of the platform.
Leftovers YEG is getting the word out this weekend by hosting an Iron Chef-style cook-off using leftover food; Rapid Fire Theatre will also join to mark the non-profit’s formal launch. The event is aimed at raising awareness about food waste and the subsequent food insecurity in our city and all proceeds will be donated to Leftovers YEG.
Sat., Oct. 21 (5:30 pm)
Leftovers For Dinner
Ernest’s at NAIT, $40