Toronto’s Joshna Maharaj has been labeled an activist chef and it’s a title she wears proudly. “I’m much more interested in how people are eating when they’re not in restaurants,” she says.
Maharaj has helped Ryerson University as well as two Toronto hospitals — Scarborough Hospital and SickKids — improve their food programs to ensure those passing through these publicly funded institution have access to fresh, locally sourced and nutritious food.
After a brief stint as the executive chef at Toronto’s Gladstone Hotel earlier this year, Maharaj says she will sit down to write a book about what she learned changing the food culture at these institutions.
On Thanksgiving, she participated in the Toronto edition of Feeding the 5000, an event series that highlights how much food is wasted around the world by making a massive meal out of scraps that would otherwise be discarded. But curbing food waste can start at home. Maharaj shares some easy tips to help minimize how much food we toss in the (green) bin every day.
Reach for imperfect produce; it’s cheaper!
We eat with our eyes — especially when it comes to fruits and veggies. But in our search for picture-perfect produce at the grocery store, we’re actually creating a lot of waste.
“We need to change our thinking a little bit to embrace the actual reality, which is things don’t always look uniform and perfect and consistent and shiny… Kind of like us,” says Maharaj. “We need to understand that our purchasing preferences is driving a lot of what ends up as waste,” she continues.
Loblaws, for instance, is trying to combat this through its Naturally Imperfect line, which features slightly misshapen fruits and veggies at a discounted price. (This summer, it added frozen produce to Naturally Imperfect). A bruised apple, peach or pepper will still taste as delicious as its unblemished counterpart.
Put down that takeout menu (and shop your fridge)
It seems like it’s never been easier to grab takeout thanks to the myriad food delivery apps that service cities across Canada. But why not take a peek into your fridge before choosing to Skip the Dishes or UberEats-ing ramen?
“Instead of automatically thinking about going out and letting something rot, or decompose in your own fridge, spend the time and cook the poor thing,” says Maharaj. It might sound insignificant, but the average Canadian household wastes nearly $1,500 worth of food each year — each wilted bunch of kale and mouldy box of blueberries adds up. Find quick weeknight recipes, or spend a bit of time cutting up your produce on the weekend so it’s easy to access when you’re in a rush.
Broccoli stalks are your friend
Even if you are being better about eating what’s already in your fridge, you can still do more with what you already have. “Unfortunately, a lot of ignorance is fuelling a lot of this waste,” says Maharaj, noting how many home cooks don’t know how to make scraps taste delicious.
Broccoli stalks, for instance, might seem tough. But peel away the tough shell to reveal a sweet and tender interior, which can be diced and cooked just like any other fibrous veggie. You can also use scraps (leek heads, carrots skin or Parmesan rinds) when making soup — the same goes for animal bones. By getting creative with our food, and using what we buy at the grocery store, we can all feel less guilty come garbage day.