Upcycled food, a growing environmentally conscious food trend, reminiscent of the age-old “waste not want not,” is catching on in Canada. Interested consumers can also adopt the concept at home.
“Upcycled food is the easy way for anyone to prevent food waste with the products they buy, specifically at foods that contain otherwise wasted ingredients to make new, innovative, interesting, nutritious products,” says Turner Wyatt, CEO of the Upcycled Food Association. “…by creating an industry of products that contain other ways we [use] foods, we are giving consumers all over the world the ability to prevent food waste every time they walk into a grocery store.”
Wyatt says that the concept of upcycled food is not just about reducing food waste, but also cutting back on the energy expenditures needed to make different products. Each piece of food takes resources — from watering and maintaining to harvesting and then transporting to stores. Using all parts of a food cuts back on the energy needed to then grow or produce an entire other similar product.
It should also, theoretically, cut back on the costs of certain foods, while also creating a new revenue stream for producers.
Upcycled food companies in Canada include GroundUp Eco Ventures, which uses spent coffee grounds and brewer’s grains to make flour; Wize Tea, which uses the leaves from coffee plants to make a coffee-like iced tea; and Kazoo Snacks, which uses spent corn germ to make tortilla chips.
Currently in Canada, there are no certifications or standards for using the term “upcycled food” on products, although Wyatt says he’s hopeful to bring his company’s certification strategy to Canada this year.
Upcycling foods at home
The average Canadian wastes about 79 kilograms of food per year, according to the United Nation’s Food Waste Index Report published in March 2021. This metric, which accounts for household food only and doesn’t include waste in other areas of food service, is above the United States’ per-capita average of 59 kg per year.
Regionally, Eastern Europe is estimated to create the least amount of food waste per person at 61 kg/year, and Western Asia is estimated to be the highest with an average of 110 kg.
Consumers looking to divert some of their food waste don’t have to only rely on branded products to get going. Overripe fruit can be kept in the freezer and then tossed in a blender to make lactose free ice cream and smoothies, or cooked into jam. Potato peels can be baked into chips, orange peels can be used to make a cleaning solution, and stale bread can be baked into croutons.
What to watch out for when throwing away food isn’t the default
Embracing an imperfect-is-okay mindset at home can be a solid way to reduce food waste while also saving some money, but there’s a limit to how far we should push things, says Andy De Santis, a registered dietician in Toronto, and regular contributor to Healthing.
“There’s differentiating between bruising and actual growth of fungal matter,” he says. “If something’s growing on a firm piece of produce, like an apple, you can cut it off around an inch. And technically the guidance is that feel safe to eat. But if it’s on something soft, like a tomato, or banana, and there’s mold on it… that should be thrown out.”
Bruising caused by physical damage — say when we drop a banana or peach — are generally safe to eat. And though the flavour might change, that’s not necessarily an indicator that it should not be consumed.