Food waste, insects and urban gardens at the Feeding 9 billion challenge

From Saturday, September 17th to the following Sunday, students from the University of Guelph worked tirelessly to develop a tangible solution to food insecurity. The event, called the Feeding 9 billion Challenge, was originally developed by Guelph Professor Evan Fraser and has spread to universities across the country. Over the course of the weekend, students divided into groups based on shared interests. By the end of the challenge, some amazing ideas had formed that have the potential reduce and food insecurity.

Judges giving feedback to the groups. Image: Ideas Congress via Twitter

It was very encouraging to see many of the groups focus on reducing and redirecting food waste for their solution. One promising idea was “Late Night Bite”; an app with with users can buy discounted food (that would otherwise be tossed) from restaurants and businesses just before closing time. Other ideas included a food truck that serves recovered food waste, as well as an increase in insect protein consumption to replace livestock-based diets.

The students involved in the challenge will be developing their ideas over the course of the fall semester and will undoubtedly have some amazing final pitches in December.

You can read more about the Feeding 9 Billion challenge here.

Spain’s “Espigoladors” harvest unwanted crops to feed the hungry

Image: Natalia Lázaro Prevost via The Guardian

Spain has made progress in closing food cycle gaps by stopping food waste at its source. The social organization “Espigoladors“, or gleaners, recruit volunteers to harvest rejected farm produce, which is then donated to food banks. Those volunteers who already use food banks are allowed to take home a box of their harvest at the end of the day. Gleaning has long been a tradition in Spanish culture: it is understood to uphold the dignity of the poor by providing them a job of harvesting crops and allowing them to take home a part of their harvest as payment. In modern day Spain, this old practice has been revived and may prove to be effective in feeding the hungry while reducing food waste.

A lot of preventable food waste occurs on farms, where rejected fruits and vegetables are left to rot because of strict aesthetic standards set by grocery chains. However, donating the produce or selling to a different buyer can be expensive or logistically challenging for farmers who often do not have the resources to carry out food-rescue programs. Volunteer programs such as the Espigoladors are needed to move food from the farm to those in need.

In addition to redirecting rejected produce to food banks, the Espigoladors have started a line of products called “Es Imperfect” (Is Imperfect) of jams, soups and sauces made from rescued produce. The label has seen incredible success and the company is looking to expand further.



Changing our expectations of “perfect” produce

Image: Dan Tuffs via The Guardian

According to University of Guelph Professor Sylvain Charlebois, imperfect fruits and vegetables that have been rejected by buyers account for about 17% of all food waste in Canada. Produce that does not meet strict aesthetic standards is usually discarded in fields, fed to livestock or dropped directly into landfills, which also wastes the energy and resources that were put into growing the food. However, the blame should  not be placed on farmers, as redirecting food to food banks or other buyers can be logistically or financially challenging. Instead, the issue stems from the unrealistic pressures that farmers face to supply “perfect” fruits and vegetables for consumers.

Initiatives such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect will be a positive step towards raising awareness of unrealistic expectations for fruits and vegetables but some have concerns about how it will impact future market prices. If people become accustomed to buying cheaper produce, the price that farmers can receive for all of their produce may fall. However, if “ugly” produce is treated like its aesthetically pleasing counterpart and sold for the same price, food waste could be reduced drastically.

As any of us who have had a vegetable garden know, not all fruits and vegetables are created the same. Yet, that wonky-shaped cherry tomato is still a mouthwatering addition to a salad, or that red pepper that has not quite lost its green pigment will still make a delicious, healthy snack. In our minds, we know that produce is not naturally uniform and perfect, but we are still presented with rows of impeccable fruits and vegetables at grocery stores. This causes the slightly misshapen or discoloured ones to stand out, which makes us say to ourselves, “that one must not be as good as the rest”. We pass them over in our search for the perfect box of strawberries or bag of apples, and the rest go to waste.

The new rules mean farmers can sell more of their goods and customers have more choice.

Image via CBC

However, new initiatives all around the world are starting to change our expectation of produce. In addition to “Naturally Imperfect,” grassroots start-ups like this group of  Montreal students who sell imperfect produce are reducing food waste, while destigmatizing “ugly” fruits and vegetables.

In an interview with CTV News, Charlebois said that “Mother Nature is not perfect…Over the next few years, people will feel more comfortable and become more educated about what agriculture is all about.”

Although food waste is a multi-dimensional issue, it can be reduced by the direct actions of consumers. We have a lot of power over what is stocked on grocery stores shelves and by demanding “normal” imperfect produce, we can help to change the unrealistic expectations of flawless products and reduce food waste.


California company delivers boxes of discounted “ugly” produce to your door

Imperfect Produce-Ugly Produce. Delivered.

(Image via

The “ugly” fruit and vegetable movement has been growing in momentum in the past few years, and for good reason. A large amount of food is wasted before it reaches grocery store shelves due to the food industry’s strict aesthetic standards for shape, colour and size of produce. In order to combat this, some grocery store chains are beginning to sell imperfect vegetables and fruits, often at a discounted price. However, there is one company taking things even further.

Based in the California Bay Area, Imperfect Produce delivers boxes of imperfect fruits and vegetables to consumers at 30-50% less cost than “perfect” fruits available at grocery stores. Shoppers can choose from a number of boxes such as all-vegetable, all-fruit or mixed, all of which are available in different sizes.

“In America, 1 in 5 fruits and vegetables grown don’t fit grocery stores’ strict cosmetic standards — the crooked carrot, the curvy cucumber, the undersized apple — usually causing them to go to waste” reads a statement on their website. The issue is also prevalent in Canada, where rejected fruits and vegetables make up to 18% of total food waste. Companies like Imperfect Produce are working to combat this by changing the way consumers think about vegetables and fruit. Along with other “ugly” produce movements, the company hopes to educate people on the benefits of choosing to eat imperfect produce, which has the same nutritional content and taste as its aesthetically-pleasing counterpart.

Christinne Muschi for National Post

Misshapen or discloured peppers such as these are rejected by buyers and often used for animal feed or tossed back into soil. (Image: Christinne Muschi for National Post via Financial Post)

As a home-grown company, Imperfect Produce only delivers to certain areas of California, but the business model would likely prove successful here in Canada, as more and more consumers are aware of the extent of waste in the food industry. Based on the success of initiatives like Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect, it appears as though Canadians are ready to see the beauty in ugly produce.

You can read more about Imperfect Produce on their website.


New tactile freshness indicator may push best before dates to the bin


A new tactile, bioreactive expiry date allows consumers to feel when their food is no longer fresh. Invented by London-based designer Solveiga Pakstaite, “Bump Mark” feels smooth when a package of food is fresh and will turn rough and bumpy when it has expired. This process is due to a gelatin substance inside the package that decays at a similar rate to food. As it has similar properties to perishable food like meat, the gelatin will be affected if food is not stored properly, or exposed to warm temperatures during transportation, making it an accurate reflection of the freshness of food inside the package.

The printed expiry dates we see on food today can be unclear to consumers and can contribute significantly to household food waste. Consumers have no way of knowing if food has been stored incorrectly, or if the food has gone bad while in the package. The bioreactive nature of Bump Mark offers a solution to the confusion.

“The label simply copies what the food in the package is doing, so the expiry information is going to be far more accurate than a printed date.” Pakstaite said in an interview with The Guardian.

When she started out, Pakstaite wanted to create a tactile that could be used by the blind, so that they could know when food had expired. However, knowing that large companies would not likely  make a sweeping change for a small part of the population, Pakstaite went on to market the Bump Mark as a tool to reduce food waste as well as empower the blind. Her work has made headlines around the world and has earned her the James Dyson Award, a charity run by the James Dyson Foundation that supports innovations in technology, engineering and design.

The Bump Mark can be altered depending on the food by altering its concentration of gelatin.The more gelatin in the package, the slower it decays. It can be applied to many products but it may be most useful for animals products like meat, dairy and seafood.

You can read more about Pakstaite’s work on her website.

Should schools help reduce food waste by teaching cooking skills to kids?

Image by Murdo Macleod via The Guardian

There’s no mistaking it: our generation of young people lack many of the the basic cooking skills that our parents and grandparents were taught growing up. Add to that the fact that millennials have not seen anything close to the economic difficulties of the post-war generation, and you have a cohort of young adults who have only ever known the fast-food driven, affluent society we live in today. As a part of this generation, I can vouch for our disconnected attitudes towards food. Many of us in the western world have been raised going to grocery stores instead of markets or fast food chains instead of family-owned restaurants. In a sense, this evolution has helped us become independent and freed up time to focus on education or careers. However, we now have less of a connection with our food than ever, which makes throwing it in the trash so much easier.

Recently, former UK government advisor on food waste Liz Goodwin said that about £12 billion of food waste can be traced back to a lack of cooking skills being taught in UK schools. She explained that millennials are so detached from food that they are sometimes frightened by it, especially when it comes to food safety and best before dates. This leads to an over-reliance on best before dates to determine freshness, instead of sensory clues like smell and appearance.

“We’ve probably got a couple of generations who went through school without really getting taught how to do things [cooking skills and home economics lessons] and then they’re terrified by use-by dates: one minute to midnight it’s OK, a minute after midnight it’s not OK,” Goodwin told The Guardian.

Another theory of why millennials waste so much is that they are not aware or just don’t care about the consequences of food waste, as they have never felt the effects of rations and shortages. With modern-day, global shipping there is almost always going to be an alternative during a food shortage. Older generations, like my parents and grandparents, who either lived through war or were raised by those who did, are less likely to waste food as they are more aware of its value.

In Canada, students are not taught cooking skills until high school, where a home education course is provided as an optional elective. As a majority of Canadian food waste occurs in the home, maybe it is time to start teaching kids how to cook from a young age. Programs such as Jamie Oliver’s Home Cooking Skills have proven successful in providing American kids and youth with cooking knowledge and could be well-received in other countries. Hopefully, the next generation will then have a more meaningful relationship with food and waste it less.

This wonky Mr. Potato Head is helping to raise awareness about food waste

Image from

Too many fruits and vegetables are thrown away because they do not meet strict aesthetic standards. Despite the success of grocery store campaigns such as Loblaw’s Naturally Imperfect and France’s Inglorious Fruit, there is still much work to do in order to rewire what consumers define as “beautiful produce”. To support the case for imperfect foods, Hasbro has made a wonky, asymmetrical, but naturally-accurate model of the Mr. Potato Head toy.

Hasbro produced the Mr.Potato Head in partnership with UK grocery chain ASDA to spread the word that even misshapen or “ugly” fruits and vegetables are still perfectly edible. However, if you’re looking to snag an original wonky Mr. Potato Head, the one and only available model has been auctioned off on ebay for no less than $950, with all proceeds going to the charity FareShare which provides affordable, healthy fruits and vegetable to families in the UK.

You can read more about the cause here.