Reduce, reuse and recycle has become one of the catchphrases of the environmental movement over the past few decades but one industry that has been struggling to adapt to that phrase is the food service industry. The very nature of the business means a lot of food and a lot of food packaging ends up in landfills. And food waste is only one of the problems facing the industry. The good news is that there is much more thought being given to how to deal with waste in the food service business, along with many other facets of sustainability, including local food sourcing and energy management and conservation. I was in Toronto last weekend and my visit just happened to coincide with the beginning of the Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association big trade show.
This is where restaurant owners, chefs and anybody who has anything to do with serving food comes to see what’s new and improved and make connections. This show is so big I couldn’t even see the whole thing over about three hours. In the past I would go to see what kind of new food products were being offered to restaurateurs, but this time around I wanted to see what kind of sustainable food trends would be on display. It didn’t take me long to realize that recyclable and compostable food packaging was a big trend. I came across at least half a dozen different suppliers that offered everything from Dasani ‘green’ water bottles that are now made at least partly from plants, (apparently they are not that green) to plates, cutlery and take out boxes that can go right into the compost, even your home compost.
The photo at left depicts a selection of Be Green packaging, It’s made primarily out of bamboo and bulrush fibre, not exactly the same thing we call cattails, but related. Apparently bulrush grows fast and you don’t have to bleach it, among other attributes. Sales rep Matt Hill told me this particular product has a very green footprint:
“They look at the raw materials, they look at the manufacturing process, they look at whether the workers in the factory are making fair wages. This packaging takes about 180 days to break down in a home composting system, about half that in a commercial compost.
Each package costs about twice as much. But there other factors that bring the overall cost down, including smaller size and lighter weight, which cuts down on transport costs so much that that overall cost of buying green works out to be equal, especially for their anchor client, Whole Foods.
Also on offer at the show, everything on how to filter your waste water to your cooking oil to getting your compost picked up now…it wasn’t that many years ago that all food waste just went into the garbage with everything else. Also a few booths dedicated to help manage your energy costs. And then there were the more direct connections to food. I talked to Katie Sandwell, who helps out with a program called OntarioFresh.ca funded by the Ontario government, which puts more people together to get more local food into restaurants and institutions. “So it’s a way to get any size of food service operator in touch with any size of producer. They each put profiles on the website so they can look for good fits and then hopefully do business.”
Katie says one of the big hurdles to getting more local food into the system was really a simple one. Buyers just didn’t know where to get local food, so this website puts them together and helps answer a demand from the consumer: “There’s a big push coming from universities right now, because students are becoming more demanding about eating locally produced food. We have been doing very well since our launch last year, we already have about 1100 registrations on the site, so we’re looking for good things to happen for this growing season.”
I also met kind of a curious guy with a really big picture in mind. His name is Shane Baghai, who is actually a real estate developer who has accumulated some land, including farmland, just north of Toronto, which will be used to create a complete sustainable community. Part of that land has gone into creating a ranch called Paradise Farms to raise cattle: “I believe in things that are unique and scarce. And cattle raised without hormones injected or raised in cramped feedlots are scarce. We live in a real paradise and that’s where the name comes in. We are not in it for maximum profit by just feeding our cattle corn and grains or using growth hormones.”
That’s all back in Ontario, but we have some pretty neat stuff going on here, and I would love to hear more about programs I may not have heard of. But we can go back to 2007 to look at the formation of the Green Table Network, originated in Vancouver by Andre Larriviere, a former CBC music producer, by the way, who started doing audits of BC restaurants with sustainability in mind and is close to announcing a new version of the Green Table Network in the near future. And then there is Climate Smart, a social enterprise that trains small and medium sized businesses to measure their carbon footprint and associated energy costs and then create a reduction strategy. This includes the food sector and there already businesses on Vancouver Island that have taken part in the training. If you want to source local foods when you are cooking instead of eating out, you can always try the Get Fresh with the Locals guide for Vancouver Island. And don’t forget our farmers’ markets! And now, a message from your local farmers market…
Next Wednesday, March 14th, Come join the Victoria Downtown Public Market Society at Canoe for an evening of great film, farm-folks, and local food and beer! The VDPMS has paired up with Canoe Brewpub (450 Swift Street) to show a great new documentary on the rise of the local food movement called Ingredients and we’ve sweetened the pot by inviting Brent Warner (Executive Director of Farmer’s Markets Canada) to tell us about the economic benefits of farmers’ markets on local economies.
Additionally, because doing this much good is thirsty/hungry work, Canoe will be offering free samples to the new Belgium beer they’re launching that night to accompany tasty treats from three VDPMS farmers’ market vendors – Cold Comfort, Cowichan Pasta and Vancouver Island Salt Company – as well as Belgium waffles by Canoe. And don’t miss the local food basket and other goodies in our raffle!!
$10 tickets will be available at the door starting at 7pm
7:30 Brent Warner presentation on economic been
All proceeds will go towards the establishment of a downtown public market. For more information, please check out www.victoriapublicmarket.com
I’ll be there, hope you will be, too!
Oh, and if you want to listen to this week’s show, go to this page on the All Point West website.