How a ski bum dumpster diving challenge contributed to Revelstoke’s food recovery program

How many people can say they’ve participated in an accidental dumpster diving challenge? Learn how to differentiate between 'best before' and 'OK after' in this story.

Dinner is served.

By Jenna Fraser, Community Food & Outreach Coordinator with the Food Connect program at Community Connections

This article first appeared in print in the January 2019 issue of Revelstoke Mountaineer Magazine. It appeared as part of our February Green Issue supplement that explored stories with an environmental focus.

How many have repurposed dumpster finds into delicious home-cooked meals? Let me explain how I got involved, and how this experience shaped the future of my career and, most importantly, my everyday life.

Now, I recover food for my job now as Community Food & Outreach Coordinator with the Food Connect program at Community Connections. It wasn’t that long ago that I was sitting in a kitchen watching my two long-haired ski-bum roommates preparing a smorgasbord of a soup using only ingredients sourced from a local grocery store’s dumpster. Watching them walk through the door that day carrying bags upon bags of perfect-looking food was shocking. I was more shocked to witness this ritual over the span of their one-month dumpster diving challenge. These two roommates were not from a marginalized demographic that couldn’t afford groceries, nor were they in need. They were environmentally conscious individuals who had watched a documentary about food waste. It motivated them to try to eat solely from recovered foods, and if they strayed, they agreed to shave their heads.

Jenna Fraser, Community Food & Outreach Coordinator with the Food Connect program at Community Connections, stocks the fridge with products past their ‘best before’ guideline, but still fine for consumption.

Over the few weeks, I couldn’t help but join in on the tasty creations that these chefs were plating. I ate like a king. You just never knew what was going to be brought home each day. One day, a box full of bananas arrived. Imperfect, yes, rotten no. So we had banana pancakes, bananas in our smoothies, banana bread and banana anything for the next few days.

Their dumpster-dining challenge taught me about the rampant food waste in our community and in the country. In Canada, the stats are disheartening. Over 40% of our food is thrown in the garbage. On farms, in grocery stores, and in our homes, food is tossed because of unrealistic consumer expectations of what food should look like, what advertisements tell us to buy, or what the misleading ‘best before’ label says.

I have always taken pride in calling myself an ecoholic. I try to do as much as possible to reduce my environmental impact, but I hadn’t put much thought into the damaging effects of food waste. These include methane emissions, wasted water, degraded soil, fossil fuel consumption, and needlessly killed animals.

The food recovery program got inspiration, in part, from grocery store dumpster raids that turned up lots of edible foods, including the haul from a late-night mission, pictured here. Photo: Contributed

Once I joined the food security team to build the Food Connect program, I was able to integrate ecoholic practices to divert food from the landfill and give it purpose instead.

Food Connect has been evolving over the past two years. Over 250,000 pounds of food has been recovered from local food retailers, and now we are sharing food with approximately 500 Revelstokians each week through 18 different community programs. It’s not just people we are feeding. With all the food deemed inedible, we provide to local farmers to feed their animals or to compost, then we recycle all the food packaging we can.

By providing food to people through Food Connect, my hope is for them to keep fighting the war on food waste in their own homes.

As far as curbing food waste at home, my biggest tip is just eat it! Easy right?

Here are some more realistic tips:

-Don’t judge a book by its cover: In food terms, don’t judge food based on dates provided by the company making the food and profiting from selling that food. These best-before dates are a freshness guideline and are not about safety.

-It’s common sense: Use your senses — look, smell, small taste — to tell if it’s OK to eat. Chances are you will know when a food has gone off.

-Get creative: Use ripened veggies in the fridge by making soups, stews, stir-frys or smoothies. Educate yourselves on how to properly store or revitalize perishable foods to maximize life.

-Maximize the potential: Evaluate everything before you toss it in the garbage, including food packaging. Can it be repurposed or recycled (check out for clarification)?

And if the food is no longer edible, embrace your inner science geek and build a compost to decompose food.

How about living out the Revelstoke dream, urban edition, by having your own little homestead with backyard chickens that will help dispose of food scraps?

If these solutions are not attainable for your home, reach out to local farmers to see if you can share your food with their animals or use a neighbour’s compost — they will thank you for this when their tomato plants are eight feet tall next year.

Sometimes caring is exhausting. But if we don’t do care, who will? Every bit does count.

I chuckle thinking that jumping in a dumpster searching for meal ideas led to my own dive into reducing food waste in our community. I now challenge you to dive into reducing your overall household waste starting today.