Guelph elementary school teacher and social activist Laurie Garbutt has started an online petition to stop the wasting of food that is suitable for human consumption.
As of Monday morning, the Change.org petition at www.change.org/p/guelph-city-council-say-no-to-food-waste-in-grocery-stores-feed-guelph-s-hungry had collected nearly 410 of the 500 signatures needed.
Garbutt has taught for nearly 30 years, and has served on the executive of the Upper Grand Local of the Ontario Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario. A busy community activist and volunteer, she is heavily involved in the city’s arts community, and a host of social causes.
In the description on the petition site, Garbutt said the work of one person in France, a municipal councillor, spurred citizens and politicians in that country to take action to end hunger, ultimately leading to laws that make it illegal to dispose of food that is still edible.
Now, grocery stores and restaurants in the country work with community partners to ensure that food is not wasted. Instead, it is distributed to food banks and community organizations that feed those in need.
Pauline Cripps, marketing and communications coordinator with the Guelph Food Bank, said the agency works with a number of stores in the community that are interested in eliminating food waste.
“They channel their donations here, so that we get the extra breads and meats coming in from around the city,” she said.
Cripps said there is a lot of support from stores, but there is always more that can be done.
“I think having the backing of the government with federal programs like that, and with the city behind it, would definitely make a difference.”
Garbutt, who could not be reached for comment early Monday, said at Change.org that in developed countries 40 percent of food losses happen at the retail and consumer level, with hundreds of millions of tonnes of food wasted each year. Nearly as much food is wasted in developed countries as is produced in the entire sub-Saharan Africa.
Garbutt believes a community like Guelph has the capacity to “make a dent in hunger.” But “food is being wasted and people are going hungry,” she says in the petition description.
“All we need are signatures and a council willing to address this issue to ensure that we are feeding our own citizens,” Garbutt writes.
There is a network of food banks, church groups, shelters, and community kitchens that could make it work.
The petition asks Guelph City Council to strike a city hall committee to begin the process of developing rules or bylaws for grocery stores and restaurants related to sharing and distributing food that would otherwise be wasted, and to develop bylaws against intentional damaging or spoiling of food that could be donated.
As well, the petition asks council to develop a business plan for food delivery to community groups and organizations.
Ward 3 city councillor Phil Allt, speaking by telephone from Ireland, said Garbutt’s actions encourage restaurants to plan their food purchasing and preparation more effectively in order to prevent waste. Doing so could actually result in lower food costs, he said.
Allt said he believes in principle that local government has a role to play in eliminating food waste in the community. But, he said, there are a number of health and safety regulations that have to be taken into consideration in order to make surplus food available for consumption.
“Our first principle should be trying find fresh food to get into the hands of people,” he said. “Let’s look at what we can do right now with the distribution of fresh produce to people who need it. I think waste is always an issue, whether it’s waste at home or in a restaurant.”
In a follow up email, Allt said food waste in homes is a significant problem. We need to purchase, cook and serve food more efficiently.