Are Toronto restaurants unknowingly supporting the city’s efforts to alienate the homeless?
By: Jasmin Smith
In Toronto, 7,347 documented residents face homelessness, and many more are experiencing circumstances that have left them without reliable housing. In a city so large, 7,347 seems like a small number, meaning there is an issue of concern that can be adequately addressed with the help of the government and local organizations.
However, over the last few months, Toronto has been causing more harm than benefit for the city’s homeless population in the face of a worldwide pandemic. At the beginning of the year, many community volunteer organizations took it upon themselves to create housing shelters in the downtown core. Although the shelters weren’t ideal for long-term living, they were able to provide a reprieve from the harsh Toronto winter, where many would otherwise find themselves sleeping on the streets. City Hall had most of these shelters swiftly removed. The immediate action of the city in this instance was a stark contrast to its delayed initiatives to aid homeless populations.
The decision faced mixed opinions. Some were outraged and called for the city to provide additional help to those facing homelessness, while others praised the increased recreational space available in public parks. The evident divide begs the question: if there are available resources to help the homeless community, is there an obligation to help? In Canada, $17 billion worth of food is disposed of each year, much of it coming from restaurants, hotels, and other adjacent establishments. While some foods are discarded because of expiration dates, this does not apply to the majority of food items. Most of the food waste from unexpired foods is often minimally flawed, thrown out simply because a fruit is bruised or because a customer prefers their steak at a different temperature.
In the wake of a more community-driven approach to running society, should we be pressuring restaurants (especially higher-end ones) to be giving their edible food waste to the homeless? As of 2019, 18.5% of Toronto households were deemed to be food insecure. That means that while only 7,347 Torontonians are documented as homeless, 271,025 more face issues surrounding food security. With approximately 7,500 restaurants in Toronto and an average household size of two people, every restaurant in Toronto could be assigned to provide food to 18 families. If most restaurant waste is still edible, it shouldn’t be deemed waste in the first place.
An old problem can call for a new solution, which may come in the form of an app called UbiFood. Similar to Uber Eats and DoorDash, UbiFood delivers food from fan-favourite restaurants. However, the difference between this app and others is that the app provides leftovers from restaurants or edible produce that was destined to go to the bins. UbiFood is innovative and the first of its kind in repurposing restaurant food waste. The app is effective both for how it allows lower-income individuals to receive quality food on a budget and because the app’s founder, Caroline Pelligrini, took the environment in mind when she founded it.
Since its release, the app has been doing very well on app stores, and dozens of vendors have signed up to sell discounted food. However, there may still be ethical questions regarding the sale of this food. If individuals face homelessness and are unable to pay, they should arguably still have access to the food offered by UbiFood.
Perhaps UbiFood can develop a section of the app that allows restaurants to give away food for free. It is widely agreed upon that access to shelter and food should be considered a human right. Restaurants in Toronto have the ability to provide food to those in need and create initiatives that could be more helpful to Toronto’s at-risk population than the city’s government currently does. It is time to hold restaurants accountable for their food waste, and the need for an edible food waste repurposing system is long overdue.
Image Attribution: Saskia Acht, via Getty Images