Students swarm into Sprouts, UBC’s student volunteer cafe, every Friday. They come carrying plates, bowls, forks and knives, and they come with an appetite.
It’s an appetite for more than a well-balanced, vegan meal. These students want to take a bite out of the huge amount of wasted food tossed into the garbage every week.
Students volunteer to chop, peel, stir and cook over 14 boxes of vegetables and slice over 60 loaves of bread as part of their program. It’s a program designed to foster a healthy eating community to promote a sustainable environment.
Best of all, it’s free.
“It’s such a neat experience being here when there are 300 people lined up to get food,” said Renee Wild, a student who took up the role of Community Eats organizer and director after some of the founders graduated.
Wild latched onto the program after she volunteered as a cook and server when started in 2007.
“It was really nice to see the community it was building,” said Wild. “What’s really great about Community Eats is you see what you’re doing and the happiness it creates.
“You’re cooking the food or going to pick it up in the warehouses where there’s tons and tons of food that’s going to be thrown away and seeing how grateful people are for a free meal and it keeps me involved.”
Every week Wild and other students collect bread donations from Terra Breads and Save-On-Foods, and vegetable donations from a farmer.
Students learn about the food and how to reduce waste when they enjoy their free meal. They savour the taste of dishes cooked using bruised, squishy and unwanted produce unsuitable for grocery stores shelves said Wild.
The meal is free because the food is all donated. Anyone who wants a bowl of vegan stew follows only one rule: BYOB or “bring your own bowl,” said Wild.
Food containers are a must because Community Eats strives to create as little waste as possible.
Wild hopes teaching students to use reusable containers, and feeding them delicious meals made from foods normally thrown away, will spark students to be more conscious about what they waste.
“It’s delicious,” said Alyse Alaouze, a student who decided to help with the food’s preparation after her friends convinced her to try Community Eats. She guaranteed anyone trying the food will be back for another taste.
“I try to be aware of our environmental situation. It means taking care of what we’ve got and making sure it lasts forever, and not abusing and over-using everything.”
is a major problem and 61 per cent of all wasted food could have been eaten if people buying it planned better and stored food smarter, according to a report done in the United Kingdom from Waste & Resources Action Program.
A single family in Toronto throws out over 275 kilograms of food every year, according to the Toronto Star.
“It’s about the bigger picture,” said Dr. Jennifer Klenz, from the UBC Department of Biology and Zoology.“When you start looking at everything you do as taking up a piece of land, it really makes you think because the earth is only so big.”
Klenz tries to teach her students to consciously think about the environment, and how they impact it, as “wasting less stuff and buying less stuff.”
“We’re pretty wasteful,” said Klenz. “You can keep food for quite a while after the best-before date.
“Another part of this eco-footprint stuff is just mindfulness. When you plan ahead, look at what you have in the fridge and use it instead of throwing it out. Re-cook leftovers and be creative. It’s amazing what you can get. It’s little, simple, common sense things you can do to make a difference.”
Community Eats utilizes all of the tips Klenz gives to students. The Community Eats cooks use whatever is heading for the garbage bin.
“Every week is different,” said Wild. “On Wednesday we go and pick up this food and you never know what you’re getting. And then, on Thursday you’re cooking it into a full meal.”
The stew is then served to droves of spoon wielding students on Friday, beginning at 11:30 a.m.
The volunteers dream up interesting concoctions, said Wild. Cooking is a learning curve and the cooks toss whatever they’ve got into a pot and hope for the best, she said.
But students dig into whatever veggie stews served and if they want to bring a small donation, that’s welcome too, said Wild.
“When you see the amount of food that would otherwise be wasted and you taste how good the meals are, it’s really amazing.
“Every time I look at the food it shocks me to think it would have been thrown out.”