Workshop 3 Summary

We took a summer break, and now we’re back with a summary of our third workshop.

Our pilot year has come to an end, but it’s just new beginnings for many initiatives that have come out of our lab process:

●  Circular food curriculum pilot (under the Our Food Our Future theme) with a class at Hawthorne School that will include: vermicomposting workshop, food waste campaign at school and letter campaign to local politicians.
●  Proposal to the Weston Foundation for funding to test different food waste awareness campaign strategies in Toronto
●  Ongoing participation in the steering committee Ontario Ministry of Environment and Climate Change Food and Organic Waste Framework
●  Creating an open source guide to running a Food Systems Lab or similar process.
●  Ongoing participation in the National Food Policy consultation for Canada
●  Contributing to Food Secure Canada’s policy briefing note on food waste
●  Presenting findings at the Association of European Schools of Planning conference, Coventry U.K
●  Contributing a food waste policy commentary for the Canadian Association of Food Studies Special Issue on National Food Policy (October 2017)
●  Part of the advisory committee for LyoFresh Technology, one of the solutions pitched under the theme “Technology for Change”
●  Part of the advisory committee for “Brew Growth” to pilot coffee ground to community garden initiative across the GTA
●  Steering Committee of the first Feeding 5000 event in Toronto, utilizing what would have been wasted food to feed 5000 people (part of the international FeedBack campaign). October 8th 2017
●  Part of an expert panel for the CBC Radio Ideas program “Feeding the Future” October 27th 2017

We’re at A Food Policy for Canada Summit!

A Food Policy for Canada: Let's build it together


Our own Tammara Soma is representing the Food Systems Lab at the Food Policy for Canada Summit in Ottawa June 22 to 23. June has been quite the adventure, having completed our third workshop and the Closing the Food Loop hackathon this month. In the midst of all of that, we also wrote a discussion paper on policy considerations for food waste reduction based on the findings from our research and workshops.

Closing the Food Loop Challenges

On June 10, Food Systems Lab will be co-hosting Closing the Food Loop, a hackathon to work on innovative solutions to reduce food waste and create a circular food system in the Greater Toronto Area.

We are pleased to announce the challenges for this hackathon that our teams will work on throughout the day. The winning team will receive a $300 cash prize. We also have a $200 second place prize and $100 third place prize.

Tickets are available for $15. Lunch and snacks are included with the ticket price.

From Over 30 Ideas to 7 Business Concepts

At Workshop 2, our goal was to expand our thinking from the problem of food waste to systemic solutions that can reduce food waste in Toronto. We took participants through a process of generating lots of divergent solution ideas, then whittled these ideas down to a handful of business concepts.

One fascinating exercise is seeing how the ideas morphed through the process. Thanks to the detailed note-taking efforts of our volunteer facilitators, we can share the evolution of the 30+ ideas to 7 business concepts.

First Brainstorm in an Innovation Ideas Cafe

Process: Each person received a summary of outputs from Workshop 1. They received three cue cards, each linked with one of the outputs (trend map, horns of the dilemma, timeline). They then wrote the most important problem area or issue they think must be addressed to reduce food waste in Toronto onto the front of the cue card. On the back of the cue card, they wrote an idea for a solution to the problem or issue. This list is a compilation of the ideas from the cue cards, in alphabetical order, with duplicates removed or similar ideas merged.

  • Accompany municipal compost program with education (e.g. compost is not a solution but a last resort)
  • Anti-oppressive lens; getting marginalized groups to the table about food waste/food system issues
  • App to show near-wasted food
  • Bring back backyard chickens
  • Certification for food waste labelling or have businesses certified by level of food waste
  • Community food sharing and bartering
  • Community vermi-composting
  • Consistent date labelling policies that address food safety rather than quality; ‘use by’ instead of ‘best before’
  • Decentralization of food supply chain; reduce transportation so fresher for longer
  • Decentralizing access to food; community farms
  • Education around overproduction/consumption and waste (e.g. public campaigns)
  • Eliminate red tape that deters redirection of food waste
  • Engage people in how food is produced (e.g. how meat is produced, genetically-modified foods)
  • Examine reports on the operations and supply chain cost in both local and corporate finances
  • Fair conditions for migrant workers
  • Fair trade solutions
  • Feed animals food waste
  • Food recipients to connect with logistics/warehousing companies
  • Food recovery platform enables food donors to connect with food recipients
  • Implement basic income which will help people choose proper nutritious food
  • Improving organizing food at home and in supermarket for food quality & safety standards
  • Incentives to people for buying local foods
  • Landfill organics ban
  • Organize food supply chain based on demand instead of supply-driven
  • Publish a food scraps cookbook on how to turn scraps into food (e.g. soups, breads)
  • Relax bylaws to allow more urban composting and urban growing
  • Revamp Ontario labour laws (e.g. improve conditions for retail, restaurant workers, UberEats drivers)
  • Show people how food is created (e.g. go to farms, kill your food if you want animals, cooking classes, farming education)
  • System mapping
  • Tax wasteful and harmful products and put this money toward encouraging new farmers
  • Teaching growing food from food waste (lettuce grown from compost)
  • Use the empty back haul capacity in trucks, food orgs, bike couriers, UberEats
  • Valuing imperfect products in field or supermarket
  • Write a food charter

Ranking and Clustering Ideas for Bricolage

Process: Each person identified their top solution idea for reducing food waste in Toronto. They then made this idea ten times bolder and wrote it on a cue card along with the first step needed to implement this idea. The cue cards were passed around, reviewed by others and then ranked with a score of 1-5 (1=not interested, 5=very interested). The top scoring ideas were clustered into themes for bricolage groups. Then, any themes that did not emerge, but were still important to participants were identified and added to the list for bricolage. Ideas are listed in alphabetical order. Participants then chose groups for bricolage. The ideas that were integrated or merged into the groups are bolded.

  • App to monitor, broadcast food waste
  • Ban food waste
  • Best practices and community mapping
  • “Buy less” food campaign
  • Community bartering
  • Create Ministry of Waste Reduction
  • Domestic exchange
  • Food literacy in schools (including composting)
  • Food waste campaign
  • Grading (relaxing standards)
  • High density residential food spaces
  • In-store zero waste charts
  • Incentivize food donations
  • Monitor + track organic food waste
  • Near Expiration (retail) and “popular” restaurant
  • Restaurants connecting to community gardens
  • Schools as food hubs
  • Value-added products out of food waste
  • Waste reduction handling certificate


Process: On the second day, participants created bricolage sculptures in their groups with found objects. After creating and presenting their sculptures, they were asked to ‘destroy’ the sculpture by taking away the most important element. This process of creative destruction and rebuilding helped open up new creative possibilities.

Turning Ideas to Business Concepts on a Rhizome Impact Canvas

Process: After presentations of the rebuilt bricolage sculptures, participants re-grouped and selected ideas to map on a Rhizome Impact Canvas template, which is modelled after a business model canvas. The purpose of mapping an idea on a canvas is to ground-truth the implementation realities of the idea and turn it into a business concept to refine and test in the prototyping phase.

Seven ideas were expanded into rough business concepts. Original canvases are available in a compiled PDF.

Food Literacy in Schools: Comprehensive environmental and social curriculum in schools around food skills and food waste such as experiential learning with food management, gardening, composting.

Grade ‘C’ Food App: An app to create new local, regional and commercial channels for grade ‘C’ food.

Growing Local/Dining Local: Connect community gardens/urban growers with restaurants so the community gardens/urban growers have access to high quality compostable organics, restaurants divert organic waste, and restaurants also have access to purchase tasty, seasonal, local food.

Ministry of Waste Reduction: Create a ministry/department designated to waste reduction, with a focus at the local level. Switching from a waste management to waste reduction perspective.

National Food Policy Food Waste Campaign for Consumers/Households: Promote equitable access to food that is also environmentally and economically sustainable through a combination of policy, operational and promotional tools such as expansion of organics collection, food waste bans, and education on food literacy.

Solution Mapping: Connect and reform Torontonians/Ontarians/Canadians about food waste projects and transferable ideas to reduce duplication of effort.

Technology for Change: Introduce food processing technology at the farm level to decrease perishability while increasing revenue by capturing more the value chain through selling preserved crops throughout the year.


New Event: Closing the Food Loop – June 10

Photo by Simon Chen

Food Systems Lab is co-hosting the first ever Open Source Circular Economy Days (OSCEdays) event in Toronto!

Closing the Food Loop is a one-day ideas hackathon to work on innovative solutions to reduce food waste and create a circular food system in the Greater Toronto Area. This event is part of the global OSCEdays community that uses open source resources to create a shift to a sustainable circular economy. Participants will be working on challenges pitched by a range of start-up businesses, entrepreneurs, national associations, and others. Using transparent, open source methods, we will generate and test new ideas, prototypes, products, and designs.

Early bird tickets (before May 15) are only $10 and include lunch/snacks!

Date: Saturday June 10, 2017
Time: 9am to 5:30pm
Location: Sidney Smith Hall, 100 Saint George St, University of Toronto Room 5017

Cutting down on wasted food

Tammara Soma and Belinda Li were recently interviewed for an article on wasted food. Reposted from Investment Executive.

Canadians squander $31 billion worth of food every year. Food literacy – understanding how food is grown – along with a little creativity in the kitchen can help in reducing waste


By Beatrice Paez

A heap of green plantain peels boiled into a stew. Pickled beef tongue and lamb brain served on toast. Vodka distilled from whey. Pork skin fried into a crispy snack known as chicharrón. These were just some of the treats on the menu at the recent Trashed & Wasted festival in Toronto, which demonstrated uses of food scraps typically deemed inedible in North American culture.

If some of those dishes sound a bit unappetizing, that’s because, as much as palates have expanded with increased access to food from other cultures, there’s still a gap in our understanding of how remnants can be turned into something tasty.

“People think we’re going to serve you garbage, but it’s a ‘food rescue’ festival,” says Brock Shepherd, a chef and organizer of the festival, which sought to raise the public’s awareness of food waste. “We don’t expect people to do these things literally. It’s just to show people there are other things you can do.”

A study by the University of Toronto in 2012 found that one in eight Canadian households, or approximately 1.6 million households, contend with food shortage. Yet, much of uneaten food can be traced back to individual consumers – not the processing or delivery stages.

Processing accounts for 20% of the food that’s wasted, while individuals’ share of the pie is 47%, according to Value Chain Management International Inc. (VCMI), a consulting firm that seeks to curb food waste. The rest is lost through such stages in the “food value chain” as farming and retail.

Part of the issue of food waste stems from the fact that the “vast majority” of individuals can afford to waste food, says Martin Gooch, CEO of VCMI.

And we do waste food. Every year, Canadians chuck an estimated $31 billion worth of food, according to a report from VCMI.

Food literacy

“You wouldn’t throw [thousands of dollars] in the garbage,” Gooch says, “but that’s exactly what we’re doing.”

Food literacy is a prerequisite to understanding how, as individuals, people can reduce the amount they waste, according to Belinda Li and Tammara Soma, who work with Food Systems Lab at the University of Toronto. Li and Soma bring various stakeholders – policy-makers, food industry leaders, faith leaders and private citizens – together through a series of workshops on how to address the roots of food waste.

There are plenty of online resources offering ideas on how to make use of scraps and stale goods. Love Food Hate Waste (, for example, houses a collection of “leftover” recipes.

Cooking with scraps that usually are discarded doesn’t necessarily yield dishes as exotic as those served up at Shepherd’s festival. Broccoli stalks, for example, which often are thrown out, can be chopped and tossed into a stir-fry or blended into a soup, Li says.

There are endless ideas for recipes, Shepherd adds, if you can find new life for items that have been sitting in your refrigerator or freezer.

Make a weekly ritual of doing a “fridge inventory,” he suggests. Defrost goods and plan a meal around what’s available. Soups, stews and casseroles often are Shepherd’s go-to meal plan for making use of these foods.

There also are little storage tweaks to prevent spoilage. For example, try setting your fridge to the coldest temperature possible and storing the most perishable produce in the lowest section.

Self-professed foodies delight in experimenting with unfamiliar ingredients, taking a “snout to tail” approach to meat products and salvaging “ugly” produce.

Planning meals in advance and buying less than what a recipe calls for, or only what you need for two or three meals, Soma and Li say, can help reduce waste.

More than you need

Two-for-one deals and other tempting discounts encourage consumers to buy more than they need, Gooch says: “If you’re bumping up against ‘best before’ dates, you’re buying too much food.”

With many people so removed from the food-production process, just tossing out a head of wilted lettuce without a second thought can be easy. But when you are connected to the way food is grown, Li says, you’re less likely to waste it.

Establishing a connection to a food source, whether by volunteering at a community garden or going on a weekend excursion to a nearby farm, can make you think twice about wasting food.

“A way to reduce food waste is to see how food is made,” Li says. “When people start seeing that, they’ll think, ‘Maybe I can [still] eat that, or I will buy less’.”