Three years after the release of Just Eat It: A Food Waste Story, a B.C.–produced documentary that follows filmmakers Grant Baldwin and Jen Rustemeyer as they attempt to live off discarded groceries for six months, the flick is still touching lives. Case in point: local high-school teacher David Schein, who left his job last summer to found the Food Stash Foundation, an eco-minded nonprofit that delivers food waste to charities around Metro Vancouver.
Speaking to the Straight by phone, Schein explains that he was compelled to make a difference after viewing Just Eat It in the spring. An avid food preserver and gardener, he was extremely bothered by the truckloads of perfectly fine apples, bananas, and other foods documented in the film—all destined for the landfill or compost because they had reached their sell-by date or did not fulfill visual standards set by grocers.
“The images of the produce got to me,” Schein says, echoing Baldwin and Rustemeyer when he shares that 40 percent of the fruits and vegetables grown globally go uneaten. Today, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that one third—or 1.3 billion tonnes—of food prepared for human consumption never make it onto plates.
In September, Schein began approaching food-related shops on Main Street and in his Kitsilano neighbourhood, asking business owners if they’d be interested in donating their “unsellable” foods. The August Market, Beyond Bread, and the now defunct Produce Co. immediately signed on board and Food Stash Foundation was born.
“They [the business owners] were already feeling bad about the waste they had, but they didn’t have the manpower to do something about it,” says Schein. “So we try to make things easier for them.”
The green advocate cold-called various charities, community centres, and other nonprofit organizations around Metro Vancouver and started hand-delivering boxes of produce, baked goods, and other foods to people in need. Seven months later, Schein estimates that Food Stash has collected over 70,000 pounds of food waste from nearly 40 grocers, restaurants, and cafés, including Terra Breads, Greens Market, and Le Marché St. George.
Schein also works with Delta’s Windset Farms to recover “ugly”—misshapen or blemished—fruits and veggies that are not accepted by grocery stores. Much of the food sourced from shops and eateries, meanwhile, are past their sell-by date, which means they should not be sold by grocers but are still edible if stored properly. Schein and a rapidly growing team of volunteers make it a point to visit Food Stash’s suppliers daily to ensure that these items make it to their beneficiaries in time to eat.
Among the group’s bounty are ready-to-eat sandwiches, salads, and even vegan pizzas. However, fresh, wholesome foods like produce, frozen meats, and dairy products are a focus because they are more nutritious and have the least amount of food-safe risk, says Schein. “I want to give people food that I myself would want to eat.”
The foods are transported to 25 local nonprofits, including the Greater Vancouver Food Bank, the Inland Refugee Society of B.C., and the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre Society. Schein hopes to set up a subscription-box service in the near future, where food-insecure households can have cases of produce, bread, and other healthy products delivered right to their doors. As a former high-school teacher, he’d also like to set up a program where he can bring interested kids along on Food Stash’s trips.
“I’ve done that a few times now and they [the students] are always very impressed by the quality of the food,” Schein says. “They kind of have this image of ‘Oh, it’s going to be rotten. It’s going to be terrible.’ And then they see it and they’re like, ‘Wait a second, I’d eat that.’ So I think it’s really important for that generation to witness that.”
In addition to diverting waste from landfills, Schein emphasizes that consuming all food products honours the labour and resources—water, grain, and land, for example—that goes into creating them. He sees feeding the less fortunate as a natural solution to a global, environmentally damaging problem. “It’s such a shame to be throwing all this food away when so many people could really benefit from having it,” he says.