The pandemic forced us all to adapt. Come together. Help each other. Support the local community. This is something that Atlantic Canadians already know so well. It’s what you do on the east coast of Canada. You help your own and adapt to work with your environment, not against it.
Community initiatives to feed vulnerable folks and those in need in Atlantic Canada have been forced to adapt to work with COVID-safety protocols and practice social distancing.
In Prince Edward Island, a local library opened a community fridge and essentials cabinet, both full of free items for those in need. There are drive-thru pickups of hot dinners for takeaway, brown bag lunches and healthy snacks, plus food hampers home deliveries operating in rural communities in Newfoundland and Labrador. Community freezers are running regularly in Nunatsiavut communities as well as in the Miawpukek First Nation, in Newfoundland and Labrador.
Today we have two inspirational stories of how Second Harvest supported Atlantic Canadians in Newfoundland and Labrador as they adapt to the pandemic to bring food to their community members who need it most.
A Small but Mighty Team Organizes Drive-thru Food Pickups and Home Deliveries
Eight volunteers, most of whom are seniors, run St. Patrick’s Parish Food Bank, a small rural operation in Newfoundland and Labrador. From the basement of a church, they serve food to families in need in the Burin Penisula as well as St. Lawrence, Lawn, Garnish, Frenchman’s Cove and Winterland.
St. Patrick’s typically serves 25 to 30 families per month and in the past had to rely on food and monetary donations from the local community to fulfill the need. Making connections to larger donors for food donations, and to Walmart Canada, whose grant helped them buy a cooler to store more fresh and perishable foods, enabled St. Patrick’s to build capacity and serve their families better.
And then the pandemic hit and their in-person services had to change. St. Patrick’s received government and community support and was able to shift gears to serve good, healthy food to both existing clientele and other vulnerable community members in a safe way.
“St. Patrick’s Food Bank has been extremely busy despite the pandemic,” says Jeannette Lundrigan, Food Bank Coordinator. Amazingly, this small crew coordinated home delivery of nearly 500 brown-bag lunches and more than 400 hot dinners, and set up a drive-thru which has provided everything from frozen food hampers, turkey and fresh veggie hampers and even $5,000 in grocery gift cards provided by The Sprott Foundation through Second Harvest.
“The most significant improvement has been the increased quality and quantity of food provided to our patrons, thanks to the generous support of charities like Second Harvest – we could not do it without you all,” says Lundrigan. “The positive responses from our patrons make it all worthwhile.”
The support St. Patrick’s gives to their community even extends to their fellow service providers: they also shared gift cards with a neighbouring food bank that was struggling. It is amazing what this handful of volunteers has accomplished during a time of global uncertainty. Lundrigan says it best:
“We might be small but we are mighty strong!”
75,000 Pounds of Food Arrives at the Mi’kmaq Community Just in Time
On the southern tip of the Island of Newfoundland in Conne River is the Miawpukek First Nation. We spoke with the Mi’kmaq community General Manager, Theresa O’Keefe, to understand how the pandemic impacted the way that they feed their community, which includes approximately 1,000 on-reserve members as well as those off-reserve.
Before the pandemic, the First Nation offered social support programs and employment services to the Mi’kmaq community, including seasonal employment programs for able-bodied folks. Some program initiatives included offering as-needed food vouchers and providing snacks, bread and monthly supper clubs to an elders’ club, student lunch and learn programs and cooking classes for youth.
When the pandemic hit, the First Nation adapted their programs to follow COVID-safety protocol—and got to work ensuring that they could continue to provide for the community.
“We faced concerns regarding the potential shortage of food due to interruptions to the supply chain,” Theresa O’Keefe said. “We get food delivered via ferry to the island, so securing food was a tremendous relief for our community.” She also explained that they struggled to get enough PPE and cleaning supplies at the onset of the pandemic. This too, thankfully, has been remedied.
They applied to Second Harvest for rescued food to distribute to 350 households in the community—and received over 75,000 pounds of food through the Surplus Food Rescue Program. They enlisted department staff and community volunteers to store and distribute food.
Funding for COVID food security helped them secured freezer reefers (container fridges), including one from their community commercial fishing program and an outside fishing company partner. This made it easier to receive and store frozen food for the harsh Atlantic Canadian winter.
“We have extra food stored so we can continue to support the needs of our most vulnerable groups,” O’Keefe said. “We also supported our local food centre in our area which services our First Nation membership off-reserve and other families, so our vulnerable families surrounding our community could benefit from extra food as well. This gave us an opportunity to support our extended family members and neighbours and increased our sense of wellbeing.”
When Newfoundland and Labrador closed all non-essential workplaces for six weeks, the community had to postpone seasonal programs, which affected income for many community members, as well as insurance benefits for others.
“Food from Second Harvest has eased the expenses of purchasing food by community members who have had to have extensions to their employment insurance benefits so money can be redirected to other household expenses,” O’Keefe explained. “The food is high quality and focused on starches and proteins, which are very much appreciated by families who would not normally have large quantities at hand.”
“Given the winter and Christmas season where families find themselves with extra expenses for gifts for their family and children and the need for winter clothing, having extra food eased the stress of having to purchase food. Money in the home can then be redirected to other household essentials.”
Food insecurity, in which people lack secure access to nutritious food, affects many Canadians. In 2017-18, at least 4.4 million individuals or 12.7% of Canadians were food insecure. This is disproportionately worse in the North where household food insecurity is 16.9% in Yukon, 21.6% in the Northwest Territories and 57% in Nunavut. That was pre-pandemic.
Indigenous peoples in Canada’s remote North are particularly at risk. According to Food Secure Canada, Inuit, First Nations, Inuit and Métis folks across the North experience five to six times higher levels of food insecurity than the Canadian national average. People living in Nunavut have the highest documented rate of food insecurity among Indigenous populations in developed countries.
According to a report on Food Insecurity in Northern Canada, as of March 2019, it cost $422.07 per week on average to feed a healthy diet to a family of four in the North. This adds up to approximately $1,688 per month or about $20k per year. The price of nutritious food is too high for most families. This, of course, is exacerbated by increasing unemployment rates and the additional stress that the pandemic brings.
Some of the Government of Canada’s Emergency Food Security Fund of $200 million during the pandemic went to supporting food security organizations in the North. “This funding will support the efforts of food organizations in the North and Arctic who work every day to ensure families have food on their tables,” explained the Minister of Northern Affairs. “This funding, combined with our increased investments in Nutrition North Canada and the implementation of the Harvesters Support Grant, is ensuring our response to food insecurity is robust, comprehensive and complete so individuals, families and communities can be more food secure across the North.”
Unfortunately, until the logistical challenges and costs of transporting good, whole foods to the North decreases, the price of nutritious foods remains far too high for far too many.
The High Cost of Good Nutritious Food in Canada’s North
While food insecurity in the North is a major problem, it is a multifaceted one.
According to Food Secure Canada, “Northerners rely on a mix of traditional (wild) and market food, and both harvesting and food shipping costs are extremely high.” Traditional foods are foods grown, fished or harvested from the land and water, such as fish, game and wild plants. However, living off of the land is not a reality for some Northern community members for many reasons including socio-economic and environmental ones.
When it comes to shipping non-traditional foods, many remote Northern communities only receive grocery deliveries a few times a year—Nunavut included. In some instances, a head of fresh cabbage can cost $28 in the Arctic and sub-Arctic isolated communities. According to this Business Insider article, three bags of groceries cost USD $245 in Coral Harbour, Nunavut. Much of these grocery items were pre-packaged—the only apparent perishable (and nutritious) goods were milk, bananas and pre-cut pineapple in plastic.
For the most part, fresh produce can’t sustainably be grown in Canada’s remote North because of the endless winters and so food must be shipped in. Food from southern Canadian growers, for instance, is shipped North over long distances by trucks, planes, ships and helicopters. These supply chains are, of course, weather-dependent.
Delivering food to the North during a harsh winter or a blizzard, pandemic or otherwise, is difficult at best. This can lead to shortages and runs on the local grocery stores. If local community members can’t get to the store within a few days of a grocery delivery, there might be no bread or fruits and vegetables left on the shelves. Community members may have no choice but turn to less expensive, but less nutritious, pre-packaged goods—if they’re available.
Hope (and Good Food) Among Northern Community Members
Despite these challenges, many Northern community members and community-run organizations are working together to find holistic solutions that work for them. Some of these solutions and programs include local food banks, co-ops, soup kitchens and support and educational programs for traditional food hunting, fishing, gathering, farming, harvesting and gardening. Many of these programs empower and educate members to do what they can to live off of the land.
When shipments of fresh or frozen food are delivered to remote communities through various non-profits and programs, everyone truly benefits.
For example, in the winter of 2020 Second Harvest rescued nearly 6,000 pounds of frozen food (mostly fish) and shipped it approximately 2,000 km to the remote Northern community of Fort Smith in the Northwest Territories. The remote community had had a tough year. Through the Surplus Food Rescue Program in 2020, Second Harvest brought over 380,000 pounds of food into the territories.
Not only were they dealing with the pandemic, but the harsh winter meant that they couldn’t hunt or fish—and they were running out of food. This was “an answer to their prayers,” one community member told us.
You’re not eating a kilogram of beef to yourself, so let’s say that it’s a 6oz steak. That requires 674 gallons or 2,550 litres of water to produce. A simple tomato, lettuce, and cucumber salad requires 21 gallons or ~79 litres of water. You also had a glass of water (another ¼ litre), which may not account for much here, but it all adds up.
Where’s Our Freshwater Going?
The average person consumes 5,000 litres of fresh water a day.
Virtual water use is the water that it took to produce everything around you.
That includes the water that it took to produce or farm, manufacture, package, and deliver your meal. But it also includes the hydropower used to light your home, heat your water, power your stove, wash your dishes, and even make your clothing, launder it, and get you cleaned in the shower.
Home consumption of water accounts for 11% of total freshwater consumption. Industry uses 19%. Agriculture uses 70%—some of which you’ve just consumed in your meal.
Blue: The amount of surface and groundwater used in production (for irrigation and watering).
Freshwater can be found in ice, groundwater that is hidden deep under the surface, and surface water such as ponds, lakes, atmosphere, permafrost, and rivers.
Green: The amount of rainwater used in production.
Plants naturally absorb precipitation and store it in their roots, as well as evaporate water from their leaves.
Grey: The amount of water used to dilute pollution created in the production.
For every statistic like 15,000 litres are required to produce one kilogram of beef, it also has a blue, green, and grey water footprint breakdown. Respectively for beef, it’s approximately 93% green (rainwater only), 4% blue, 3% grey water footprint, but varies greatly depending on farming practices.
Yes, and only 2.5% of that water is fresh, deliciously drinkable water. The other ~97% of our planet’s water is the ocean, which is too salty in its current state to consume or irrigate with.
As you can see, our freshwater use is unsustainable, especially on a global scale. Especially in developed countries where the value of water seems much too low for how much we need and use it.
Over the past 100 years, global freshwater use has increased sixfold and continues to increase by roughly 1% every year since the 1980s. If we continue on business as usual, by 2030—a mere nine years from now—the world will face a 40% global deficit in freshwater.
The Link Between the Value of Water and Food Security
Water scarcity is a serious and growing concern. This is especially true when we look at the link between water and food production.
We need water to produce food. Water helps plants grow, boosts crop yields and nutrition levels, allows farmers to expand their production to feed more people, and allows us to grow food during dry seasons or droughts. The more water that a community—or country—has available for agriculture, the higher the food security. There is also known to be less malnutrition, famine, and undernourishment where there is better access to good water.
Water is therefore central to our food security, health, and nutrition.
It is also in high—and ever-increasing—demand as our population continues to grow and more droughts plague our changing climate.
A Drop’s Worth: The High Value of Water
The good news (!) is that we have the power to act responsibly and change our ways.
Only the privileged few have the ability to access and use 5,000 litres of water a day, for example. Three billion people around the globe lack access to clean, safe drinking water.
The same can be said of food insecurity.
One in seven Canadians doesn’t have access to good, healthy food, despite the food loss and waste. That’s why Second Harvest works to divert surplus food from the landfills (and compost buckets) to help feed those in need.
In order to address the problem of single-use waste most effectively, Fill it Forward has focused their efforts on influencing behaviours that inspire reuse. Their team develops macro-level systems and programming for large organizations, as well as micro-level product features and tech that engages individuals to create lasting change.
Every time you scan one of the reuse trackers into the Fill It Forward App, they track in real time the environmental impact of that decision as well as donate to their partners’ clean water, sanitation, or nutrition programs. Those projects range from the Americas to Asia, Africa and beyond.
‘Tis the season for eating—and holiday food waste.
Unfortunately, food waste increases by 25% during the holiday season. Millions of pounds of seasonal foods such as turkey, gravy and mashed potatoes are prepared but go uneaten and eventually tossed. “When we throw away food, we’re also throwing away the land, water and energy used to produce that food,” said Pete Pearson, Director of Food Waste, WWF on holiday food waste.
Beyond our holiday overindulgence and food waste being an environmental issue, it’s also a social one.
One in seven Canadian homes was food insecure in May 2020 during the pandemic. In October 2020, the Canadian government doubled its support for the Emergency Food Security Fund added another $100 million to help feed communities. Toronto-based Daily Bread Food Bank reported in September 2020 that food bank visits in the city increased by ~25% since the beginning of the pandemic.
The holidays can be a challenging time for many, without the added stress and risk of the pandemic. Rather than actively contributing to holiday food waste this winter, consider a more mindful and less wasteful approach.
7 meal planning tips to reduce holiday food waste this season
One of the best ways to reduce holiday food waste is to shop and cook the right amount of food. This starts with a good plan. Write down the meals that you’re shopping for and what you would like to prepare. Don’t forget to leave room for your leftovers.
Make a grocery list from your plan.
2. Check cupboards and pantry for ingredients
Next, do a kitchen audit. Check your pantry, fridge, freezer and cupboards for what you already have. If something needs to be eaten soon, add it to the meal plan. Frozen goods don’t last forever and could be a useful addition to your holiday meal.
During your audit, you may discover that you already have most of the ingredients for your baking plans or that you already have great holiday sides and condiments, such as canned cranberries, dried beans or frozen peas.
Cross the ingredients off of your shopping list.
3. Create recipes that incorporate what you have
Get creative with using up the ingredients that you already have. If you’re making stuffing, why not use up frozen or stale bread—or turn them into bread crumbs to sprinkle on top? If you find frozen peas, why not make a side of mashed peas with mint? Eat those dried beans on the side of your ham.
Think of this as a feel-good project to reduce your holiday food waste (and reap the benefits later with delicious meals).
4. Prepare “just enough” to avoid holiday food waste
This year is a great year to curb the habit of preparing too much food and putting out spreads fit for kings and queens. Your guest list will likely just be you and your immediate family or loved ones, after all. Think about how many people you’re shopping and cooking for—and make just the right amount for everyone.
One of the best ways to reduce holiday food waste is to prepare just the right amount of food.
In the restaurant industry, plate waste is one of the leading out-of-home causes of food waste. More than $7 billion worth of food is wasted every year—~13% of all food loss and waste in Canada—from hotels, restaurants and institutions such as school cafeterias.
This happens when too much food is prepared, added to our plates and not taken home as leftovers.
5. Cook nose-to-tail and root-to-stem—compost the rest
When preparing your meals, always use the whole food. The technique of nose-to-tail and root-to-stem cooking means just that. If you bought a turkey or chicken, for example, use the bones to make broth or soup. Even your onion skins can be thrown into broths.
Use every part of your vegetables as well. Squashes, for instance, have delicious seeds full of fat, fibre and protein that can be roasted and added on top of salads.
When your ingredients are spent, compost them.
6. Plan for leftovers
If you know that you’re going to have unavoidable leftovers, plan them into your meals for the rest of the week. Organize turkey sandwiches one day and soup the next. Freeze any leftovers that you know you won’t eat right away and enjoy them another time. You may thank yourself on a cold day in January for freezing your homemade holiday turkey soup, for example.
7. Donate good, surplus foods—and support hunger relief
This brings us to our final point. As we said, food waste is an environmental problem. But it’s also a social one when it comes to rising hunger levels everywhere.
Find a local food bank to donate your good, surplus food. Volunteer your time to help with hunger relief in your community. Donate to help fund organizations that are tackling the problem every day, no matter the season.
It takes dedication and commitment to be a more sustainable and environmentally-friendly consumer. This is especially true when it comes to reducing our food waste and improving our grocery shopping habits.
Many of us shop for 2-for-1 deals but let the second item spoil because we never needed it in the first place.
How can we (as consumers) lessen our impact on the planet when it comes to food waste? Here are 7 steps to make your grocery shopping and eating habits more sustainable when it comes to reducing personal food waste.
Tackling food waste: 7 sustainable grocery shopping and eating habits
1. Do a quick kitchen audit
Before you go to the grocery store, take a good look in your fridge, freezer, pantry, cupboards and drawers. Any perishable items such as fruits, vegetables, meat, poultry and dairy should be eaten first. Write them down on a list. Even non-perishable goods and frozen foods don’t last forever. Perhaps you have some frozen meats and canned beans or soups that should be eaten soon.
Tip #1: While you’re doing an audit of the foods in your kitchen, throw out items that have clearly gone bad. This will not only give you a clean slate to work with but also remind you of how much you’re throwing away and show you what you’re not eating (and don’t need to buy more of).
Tip #2: Keep a running list of items such as high-use condiments or spices that need replacing. This way, you won’t impulse buy them when you don’t actually need more.
2. Research recipes with items that need to be eaten
Eating the items at the back of your cabinet or freezer shouldn’t be a chore, so don’t make it one. Find a great recipe (foodgawker is an excellent resource) and make a plan to celebrate the ingredients. For example, if you have squash and frozen broth that need eating, why not make a squash soup? Write down any extra ingredients that you may need—and double-check first that you don’t already have them.
3. Make a meal plan
By now, you should have a list of what food items you have, what needs to be eaten and a couple of recipes that you’d like to try along with ingredients that may be missing.
Depending on how many meals you plan to make at home per day and per week, make a little grid of breakfast, lunch and dinner for the week. Add in the recipes that feature foods that need to get eaten first and fill out your meal plan from there. Don’t forget that some meals could be made from leftovers and spruced up with a delicious salad, vegetables or soup.
Tip: Rotation in our daily and weekly meal plans is key to a well-balanced diet. Throw in a couple of your easy, staple recipes but research some new ones (and ingredients) too. This will ensure that you’re getting a wide variety of essential nutrients.
4. Write a missing items grocery list
Make a shopping list based on your meal plan and kitchen audit. Some items such as milk, bread and eggs, for example, may be staple items on your grocery list and can be added to every list.
5. Eat before you shop
It might sound silly, but part of establishing more sustainable grocery shopping and eating habits is to buy only what you need. Just like going to an all-you-can-eat buffet on an empty stomach, you’re more likely to over-consume at the grocery store if you’re hungry. Eat breakfast, lunch or a snack before you go and then stick to your list. If an item looks delicious or is on sale, before you buy it, consider what you could replace in your meal plan (and grocery list) first.
6. Stick to your meal plan but be flexible
Congratulate yourself for thinking sustainably about how you grocery shop and consume foods.
You’ve done all the hard work of doing a kitchen audit, writing out what needs to be eaten, recipes and missing ingredients and making a meal plan—so honour the time spent by sticking to it.
Of course, if your kale is yellowing or a bunch of herbs are browning, having the flexibility in your meal plan will help you reduce your food waste. Make a quick kale caesar salad on the side or throw some herbs into your roast to save them (and add flavour to a dish).
7. Save your leftovers
Work your leftovers into your meal plans if you can. If you know that you’re making lasagna, for example, with noodles, canned tomatoes and carrots that all needed to be eaten, there’s a good chance that you’ll have leftovers. Reheat it for lunch with a salad and a piece of fruit for lunch or make another dinner of it a couple of nights later (to give yourself a break from it).
Bonus step: Thank yourself for practicing sustainable shopping and eating habits
As you can see, it takes time and effort—and diligence—to shop and eat sustainably. But it pays off both for your health, wellness and personal finances and for the health of the planet.
The next time that you’re making a homecooked meal with food that might have otherwise gone to waste, take pride in the fact that you’re doing your part. Sometimes, it’s the little things that make a big difference (especially when it comes to our home).
#WasteWise: A note about water. And what you can do
Second Harvest has partnered with Loblaw’s to help Canadians become #WasteWise. Did you know that food loss and waste accounts for close to 60% of the food industry’s blue water? Please sign our Waste Wise Pledge