British Columbia

From dumpster to dinner table: Students harvest discarded food to raise awareness about waste

Two University of Victoria students are dumpster diving for dinner to raise awareness and money for the food crisis in northern Canada, and to bring attention to the amount of food waste happening across the country.

'The way we're consuming things isn't sustainable,' says UVic student Elora Adamson

Riley Yakabuski (left) and Elora Adamson pose with food they gathered from a dumpster on Jan. 16. The pair is dumpster diving to raise awareness about food waste across Canada. (CBC/Mike McArthur)

A late-night dumpster dive in Victoria can bring in quite a haul for students Elora Adamson and Riley Yakabuski.

Piles of potatoes, lettuce and tomatoes, all of it looking fairly fresh — and all of it destined for their dinner table.

It's not out of necessity that the University of Victoria environnmental studies students are digging into dumpsters for food.

Their goal is two-fold: to raise awareness and money for the food crisis in northern Canada, and to bring attention to the amount of food waste happening across the country.

58% of food produced is wasted: report

A whopping 35.5 million tonnes of food produced in Canada is lost or wasted, according to a new report.

The study by Toronto-based agency Second Harvest, titled The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste, says about a third of that discarded food could be "rescued" and sent to communities in need across the country.

Adamson and Yakabuski say a large amount of waste is due to consumers' extremely high cosmetic standards and a hypersensitivity to best-before dates.

That's reflected in the quality of the food they've found in dumpsters, much of it still good to eat and quite often expensive.

The environmental studies students say they have found luxury items like bottles of $5 gourmet yogurt in the trash. (CBC/Mike McArthur)

"We've found gourmet yogurt in the trash — the ones that come in glass bottles that are $5 each. Gourmet cheeses, gourmet everything," said Yakabuski on Wednesday during a late-night dive.

Adamson says it's unfathomable how Canadians are wasting so much food.

"We're trying to get to everyday people that the way we're consuming things isn't sustainable," she said.

Eating 'garbage' for a good cause

Yakabuski and Adamson have committed to only eating items out of dumpsters for 10 days.

The pair is raising money via GoFundMe for the organization Feeding Canada, an Indigenous-led initiative based in Toronto.

They will also be donating money that they would have spent on groceries to the organization.

Riley Yakabuski and Elora Adamson often find food that is still edible and fairly fresh while dumpster diving. (CBC/Mike McArthur)

That money will go toward care packages that get sent to northern Canada, where prices can be up to 10 times higher than the national average. 

The pair's fundraiser ends Friday, Jan. 18.

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