Second Harvest

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Interview with Lori Nikkel, CEO, Second Harvest

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I am the CEO of Second Harvest, Canada’s largest Food Rescue organization and the proud mother to 3 wonderful sons.  My career started over 20 years ago as a low-income single mom trying to make sure my own children had access to good healthy food.  This resulted in me volunteering at my boys’ school as the nutrition coordinator where I learned quickly that children come to school missing meals for many reasons, and you can’t tell who’s hungry just by looking.

The budget was limited, so in order to ensure we had enough food, we requested local retailers and restaurants to donate their surplus food to our program.  This is where my passion for food systems began and what motivated me to move beyond the boundaries of that school. I’ve since worked at FoodShare, Breakfast Club of Canada and now Second Harvest.

In the 34 years since Second Harvest was started, how has your mission evolved?

We began as a wonderful common sense solution, feeding Toronto’s most vulnerable with surplus food. While we continue to do this, we have expanded our mission to embrace the environmental imperative of keeping good food out of landfill due to the detrimental impact it is having on our planet.  This has resulted in Second Harvest filling a gap that the food industry has embraced. We have become that one stop shop for perishable food in Canada, as we connect food businesses and non-profits together in managing surplus food. 

We have a number of different programs and are probably best known for our fleet of refrigerated trucks that criss-cross Ontario, collecting surplus food and delivering it to organizations in the GTA. We have also launched an online platform www.foodrescue.ca that is a matchmaker of surplus food to local non profits. We provide research,  training and skills development and are about to embed e-learning into our programs, so people everywhere can access the knowledge and skills needed to join the Food Rescue Revolution.  

Do you see any change in engagement in reducing food wastage from the community-at-large?

I do. I see a momentum that includes industry, government, academics, NGO’s and the general public. But it is lacking the urgency we need to really move the needle on change.   We are slowly coming to the realization that we don’t have a food shortage problem. We have a food distribution problem. This is resulting in some businesses setting measurable food waste reduction targets. More research specific to food waste is being conducted and new solutions are being developed to combat the enormous amount of food waste. 

It’s a start and I believe that the more people know, the more they will act. So let’s keep getting the message out. We all have a role to play. We need more research, measurement and leadership. We as consumers need to shop, cook and eat smarter. We have to be aware of the larger system which brings us the food and figure out ways of mobilizing communities to demand more from the industry, government and ourselves to minimize the amount of food that is being wasted.

The sheer amount of food loss and waste is shocking.  58%  of all food produced for Canadians is lost or wasted. Some waste is inedible like bones, husks or hides, but 11.2 million metric tonnes is perfectly edible and could be rescued to feed people. To put that in perspective, it’s enough food to feed every Canadian for 5 months.

Now that we have this roadmap, do you see industry/organizations changing behaviors and adopting more sustainable practices?

Food waste and its environmental impact are very much top-of-the-mind for the consumers and the industry. However, due to the systemic nature of it, implementing change can be slow. We’re seeing an increase in industries assessing their food waste and many are implementing waste reduction targets.  Food businesses are embracing foodrescue.ca. It not only provides a solution to surplus food, but also metrics that allow the industry to measure the amount of avoidable food waste they have.

What are the top 3 things you would change about food in the way we produce it, the way we consume it?

Value

We have created a culture that doesn’t Value food. It’s accessible for most people relatively inexpensively, which has allowed us to accept food waste. Food is precious. It gives us life and health and shouldn’t be relegated to an easily accessible commodity.

Measure

Measure the amount of food you or your business is wasting. Count the true cost of it. It really adds up. Set targets for waste reduction and prevent at source whenever possible. Every little bit makes a difference.

Champion

We need leaders at all points in the supply chain who will Champion measurement and implement systems to address the sources of food loss. We need advocates who create an environment that enables and motivates everyone to reduce food waste.

This interview has been lightly edited. All responses and opinions expressed in this interview belong to Ms. Lori Nikkel. Shortly after this interview, Ms Nikkel was honoured with the Clean50 Award.