How Youth are Tackling Food Waste One Bite at a Time
Updated: Dec 16, 2020
Reducing food waste is about more than landfill diversion and the associated reduction in greenhouse gas emissions.
It’s also about preserving the natural resources needed to grow, produce, transport and prepare our food - in getting it from farm to fork. Reducing food loss and waste is one of the top solutions to reverse global warming. Re-examining our food system through this lens requires us to take a good, hard look at how we value our food, our planet and each other.
“Up to one third of all food is spoiled or squandered before it is consumed,” the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization says. “It is an excess in an age where almost a billion people go hungry.” We must embrace the challenge to create a better, more equitable and sustainable world. It’s time to do things differently.
But how do we empower more people to engage in behaviour change for sustainability? Angelina La, a University of Waterloo Environmental Studies graduate and Energy Management Intern at Halton Region, is part of a new group stepping up to help answer that call.
La is Team Lead at Waste Watchers, a youth-led, youth-serving group working in conjunction with Youth Challenge International and in partnership with Second Harvest, to engage youth to take action on food waste in the GTHA. Andrea Stephens, Regional Coordinator at Drawdown Toronto sat down with La to get her thoughts on this innovative project.
So many climate action projects already exist. Why focus on food waste?
We did some research and found some shocking statistics on the impact of food waste in Canada. For example, a 2017 study by the National Zero Waste Council found that “63% of the food that Canadians throw away could have been eaten”. For the average Canadian household, this percentage is equivalent to 140 kg of avoidable food wasted per year – which is more than $1,100 LOST per year.
Recognizing the need to address food waste at the household level, we conducted a survey to find out what youth thought about this issue. Youth listed the top three reasons for food waste as:
Lack of education and awareness
Buying more food than we need
Misinformation on what constitutes ‘good food’
This information solidified our resolve to empower and engage youth to reduce food waste. As Greta Thunberg has so aptly demonstrated, social media has emerged as a powerful tool to engage youth in climate crisis activism and action.
Where does the Waste Watchers team get inspiration to create positive change?
As youth, we know that we are the future and that we must be the change that we seek. Simply acknowledging this fact is very inspiring.
We are also inspired by our many innovative partnerships. Being part of a supportive cohort of youth Climate Leaders at the Youth Challenge International’s Innovate MY Future program creates community and drives climate change solutions. The program provides us with amazing mentors, helpful resources, design-thinking training, grant funding and collaborations with local experts and partners. This inspires us to create and implement concrete projects to address urgent climate issues on the community level.
We are also grateful for our partnership with Second Harvest, the largest food rescue organization in Canada. They have provided vital guidance and support in engaging youth to reduce food waste.
Lastly, we remain invigorated because of the opportunity to meet, network, and learn about the impact of other social and environmental initiatives that like-minded young people are leading to make a real difference. Social media and virtual platforms have allowed us to connect with like-minded youth who are taking a stance and catalyzing climate action within their own communities.
Why is Gen Z representation essential?
We are a ‘by youth, for youth’ initiative and have members across the spectrum of Gen Y and Gen Z. It is essential that our team embodies and represents all youth voices. There is no better way to relate to and mobilize our intended audience than being a part of that audience ourselves.
For Gen Y and Gen Z, eco-anxiety is very real. We also feel a lot of pressure. It can be overwhelming to realize that if we don’t take climate crisis action, social and environmental injustices, barriers, and impacts will only grow in intensity and frequency.
The urgency of taking climate action motivates us to listen to one another, develop solutions, and mobilize generational change.
What are the goals of this project and how will you define success?
Our overall goals are to engage, empower and mobilize youth to take action in reducing food waste. Our success is defined by these five actions:
Expand and support our community network of like-minded youth to take climate action within their own communities.
Leverage the power of virtual platforms to educate and raise awareness of the impacts of food waste.
Provide sustainable and equitable solutions that leave no one behind.
Celebrate the diversity across Canada.
Learn about the cultural connections and relationships that families have with food at the household level.
To quote fellow Waste Watchers team member Christina Li: “I can’t wait for you to join us in this food waste reduction journey, and save the planet one bite at a time! :)”
Stay in touch with the Waste Watchers initiative by following them on Instagram @food_unity_
Are you a Naturopathic Doctor wanting to engage your colleagues and patients about reducing food waste? Want to get involved with food security issues? Follow Naturopathic Doctors for Social and Environmental Trust (NEST) on Instagram and Facebook @nestnds or check out our website to learn more!