Edmonton's food waste under scrutiny in new Youth Council report

The Edmonton Youth Council is urging the city, businesses and residents to do more to help bolster food security and access in Edmonton. 

Council outlines 8 ideas the city can use to improve food security and reduce waste

Edmonton's Food Bank gathers provisions and distributes to 300 agencies, churches, and food depots in the city. (John Shypitka/CBC)

The Edmonton Youth Council is urging the city, businesses and residents to do more to help bolster food security and access in Edmonton. 

The council outlines eight recommendations in a report released this week called "Food Waste and Insecurity: A Youth Perspective," which they hope the city will use to alleviate the problems it sees. 

Ricky Liu, chair of the City of Edmonton Youth Council, said they wanted to highlight the impact food insecurity has had on communities especially during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

"Food insecurity really is much bigger of an issue than we ever imagined," Liu said in an interview Friday. "And it's affecting so many more youth than we once thought."

In compiling the report, council members interviewed several non-profit organizations, including the Multicultural Health Brokers Co-op, WECAN Food Basket Society, Edmonton Food Bank and Food4Good. 

Demand for food provisions went up at all listed organizations, the report shows. 

The members researched global strategies and surveyed Edmontonians aged 13 to 23 years old.

In its report, the youth council suggests the city explore ways to educate businesses on donating or diverting excess food to local organizations.

The city could work with school boards to come up with a way to enhance food donation between restaurants and schools and expand breakfast programs. 

They also suggest the city could support community food markets and community fridges.

"We really need to have kind of a broad, and all-encompassing collaboration between organizations, between governments, between geographical locations to really combat this issue," Liu said.

'A long way to go'

Coun. Scott McKeen said he welcomes the ideas compiled by the youth council, noting that the state of food security is daunting. 

"We have a long way to go to build efficiency and equity into our food systems." 

The recommendations may be complex to put into practice, he said, but believes the city can take steps to work with local hoteliers, restaurateurs, and social agencies.

"There might be ways that the city can bring its capacity — 12,000 staff, big purchasing power, that sort of thing — into this to help foster a better system to ensure that we don't have as much food waste in Edmonton."

Marjorie Bencz, executive director of Edmonton's Food Bank, said with many people losing their jobs or underemployed during the pandemic, the demand for food has gone up. 

This July, 28,000 people were registered in the hamper program, she said, compared to 17,000 in July 2020. 

She said last year, many people had access to a range of programs, including CERB, the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit during the first part of the pandemic, Bencz said. 

Pandemic donations

The pandemic also brought out the generous side of Edmontonians.

"Restaurants were donating their perishable stuff to us — that was certainly something that was really new for us to see that volume of food coming from the restaurants," Bencz said. 

The food bank supports over 300 organizations in the city, has 70 depots around the city, and a delivery service they started in 2020 when COVID-19 started, she noted. 

Bencz said the youth council report can help remind people, individuals and businesses, to be more aware of how much they're buying. 

"Consumers can learn about this, businesses can always reach out to the food bank, if they have surpluses in food," to find out what they can use and how.

City council's community and public services committee is scheduled to discuss the report at a meeting next Wednesday.  (John Shypitka/CBC)

In the end, food security isn't achieved without income security, she noted. 

The youth council is also hoping the city will explore long-term strategies to help local non-profits expand their reach in addressing food waste and food insecurity.

City council's community and public services committee is scheduled to discuss the report at a meeting next Wednesday. 



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