Food rescue up and running

Amber-Rain Hyshka disregards expiry dates. Yogurt a month overdue doesn't faze the Yukon College business student. "It's already fermented anyway," she said.

Amber-Rain Hyshka disregards expiry dates.

Yogurt a month overdue doesn’t faze the Yukon College business student.

“It’s already fermented anyway,” she said.

Same goes for old cheese.

And “cookies and crackers last forever,” said Hyshka.

“There is so much food going into the landfill that we can redirect.”

So Hyshka started rescuing food.

This doesn’t mean she’s scouring the dump for well-aged cheddar and crackers.

Hyshka has gone directly to the source.

“I go to the stores and pick it up,” she said.

So far, she’s been getting about $1,000 worth of food a week – for free. “That’s $52,000 worth of free food a year,” she said.

Hyshka lived in Yellowknife before moving to Whitehorse and the city ran a food rescue program there.

“They were rescuing $455,000 worth of food a year,” she said.

“That’s 109,000 kilograms redirected from the dump.”

This isn’t just about giving hungry low-income families free food – although that’s a huge part of it, she said. “It’s also about recycling and composting.”

Right now, when food expires, most supermarkets throw it in the dumpster without separating the food from its packaging.

“They don’t compost the yogurt and then wash 100 containers,” said Hyshka.

But when the food is rescued, it gives people a chance to recycle and compost the food they don’t end up using, she said.

Yellowknife also has a better composting system with its grocery stores, added Hyshka.

It composts the expired food that doesn’t get rescued.

“Whitehorse thinks of itself as progressive and artsy,” said Hyshka. “And Yellowknife is often thought of as more redneck. But Yellowknife is way ahead of us on this.”

So far, only the Riverdale Super A and Riverside Grocery are giving Hyshka rescued food.

“Superstore said it’s against their policy,” she said. But the Superstore in Yellowknife is part of its food rescue program.

Hyshka told this to the Whitehorse Superstore management and “they told me to contact their head office,” she said.

Bigway’s management told Hyshka it doesn’t throw stuff out.

But she finds this hard to believe since she’s getting $1,000 worth of food a week from Riverdale Super A and it’s much smaller.

Hyshka intends to meet with all the grocery store managers in person, rather than just making phone calls and sending emails.

But first she needs to find more storage space.

Right now, the rescued food is being harboured in Yukon College’s kitchen.

“I pick it up and take it to the kitchen and people just take what they want,” she said.

Hyshka picks up the food on Friday and it’s all gone by Saturday afternoon, she said.

“There are 150 people living in residence and a lot of them are low-income.”

In Yellowknife a lot of people were dumpster-diving, even government workers making upwards of $105,000 a year, said Hyshka.

“People were coming home with five cases of cheese, stuff like that.”

That’s when the idea of a food rescue really took hold.

Now the N.W.T. is even using rescued food in its school lunch programs, she said.

Expiry dates are only legal recommendations, said Hyshka. Food often stays good for months longer. “And people eat lots of expired food from their cupboards all the time because they just don’t check the date.”

Rescue food programs are really common in the U.S., she added.

Under current Yukon law, grocery stores are legally responsible if they give away expired food.

So, in the fall, Hyshka lobbied government to change that law.

“They thought this was a good idea and agreed to pass (the new law) by this fall,” she said.

In the interim, Hyshka has only been receiving what’s considered less-risky rescue food.

“We’ve got lots of soups, cereal, cookies, crackers, some cheese,” she said.

She also got some sandwich meats that stores have started freezing just before its expiry date.

Still, there is so much more food that could be rescued, she said.

But first, Hyshka needs more space.

“Ultimately, I’d like to find space downtown so people can walk there,” she said.

Someone already contacted Hyshka offering her a free freezer.

“But I need space,” she said.

She hopes to team up with another business, in order to cut costs.

And when she can find the time, between her course load and picking up rescued food, Hyshka’s started writing grant proposals.

She also knows she’ll need volunteers as the food rescue grows.

“Once we get more stores on board we could easily be getting $3,000 worth of food a week,” she said.

Already what she’s getting is food many low-income families would not necessarily be able to afford.

“The nutritional content of much of the food is better,” she said.

“We’re getting things like organic cereals, rather than Ichiban noodles and Kraft.”

Hyshka finishes her business program at the college in April.

If the food rescue “gets big,” she’ll stay.

Otherwise, she’s considering heading south “because they don’t have a four-year business program here,” she said.

Contact Genesee Keevil at

gkeevil@yukon-news.com

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