How This Toronto Millennial Finds Motivation in the Face of a Mountain of Food Waste

There are stories in the food we eat and share—let’s listen to them.

While working in a Toronto restaurant a few years ago, Monique Chan, the winner of this year’s CEC Youth Innovation Challenge, realized that thousands of dollars were being wasted in her restaurant alone as a result of food waste. Since then, she’s created Bruized, a women-led company centered on combating food loss by diverting waste from the landfill and using it to create healthy snacks everyone can enjoy. We caught up with her to talk about her perspective on food waste as a young entrepreneur and how she finds motivation in the face of big environmental challenges.

This interview has been condensed and some excerpts have been edited for clarity.

How would you define food waste for someone who’s never heard of it before?

I like to tell people that food isn’t wasted until you throw it out. So I think the idea that people usually have about food waste is that it’s something that’s rotting or it’s actual waste. In reality, a lot of stuff that is under this food waste bubble is usually found across the food chain, starting at farms.

What is it about food waste that made you interested in starting a business that addresses this particular issue?

My family is very frugal and conscious about what we throw out; more so from a financial point of view, and so I think it’s something that started at a young age. For example, as a child, I would never be allowed to leave anything on my plate; I would only take what I needed.

Then, when I started working at restaurants during university, at the end of any given day, everything would be thrown out — not even composted. That was shocking, so I did a little bit of digging. And I ended up putting a proposal together for one of the companies I worked at because of what I witnessed.

What kind of digging did you do?

Well, I’d be able to see the price of certain items, like sweet potatoes per unit. They were 40 dollars a box. The guy that was cutting them would cut around the potato and throw out the excess to have square-shaped sweet potatoes. Every morning there would be a full garbage bin of sweet potatoes that were perfectly fine. I noted down the amount of money that went into buying this food and other factors, and in total, this waste came out to fourteen thousand dollars.

The purpose of that food was to be enjoyed by someone. So I think that’s what really drives my passion to save food, because even if it’s on a small scale, I know it’s making a difference.

These are such personal and hands-on experiences with food waste. How do you suggest people think about it for themselves if they’ve never had these types of experiences?

I think the issue would really hit people hard if they realized the financial side of the problem. If you actually see how much food you’re wasting at home as a consumer, that would be a good place to start. I think that it can be helpful for people to make changes by realizing, “oh, if I just make this one switch every month or change the way I store my produce in this way I can save fifty dollars.” Fifty dollars a month saved up for a whole year can add up really quickly! So that might be a good incentive for people to make those changes.

Personally, I think what helped me was creating a connection with food and learning more about where that food is coming from — not just thinking it appears out of nowhere. I think because we’ve been more reliant on going to grocery stores and having an abundant supply of fresh-looking food, always available 24/7, we’ve gotten into his habit of “OK, yeah, if this goes to waste, whatever — I can just go to the grocery store again and buy some more!” It can be very ‘out of sight, out of mind’. But when you realize that all this produce grows from the ground, that it starts from the seed, that someone has put labor into growing and transporting it, the product becomes more than just food — it’s also water, energy, and resources. The food almost has its own story.

Those issues definitely speak through your social media content. It’s also very clear that you speak directly to youth. Why is that?

I really believe the education of youth is how we can combat climate change and have a better, sustainable future. I also feel like youth accept new, unconventional ideas and are open to creating different habits or trying new things out. That’s why we’re trying out new platforms, Tik Tok for example — it’s very foreign to me as someone who grew up in ‘95. So even I’m figuring out ‘how the kids are doing it these days’. I think it’s fun and I really enjoy connecting with younger people and having these conversations because that’s what’s going to make a difference in the long term.

What is your advice to a young person who feels inspired to take action on food waste?

I would say I don’t think you should strive for perfection. I think it’s all about making small changes every day. That’s how you’re going to make a difference. It’s not about getting hung up over throwing out something that you forgot about in the fridge, but seeing that as an opportunity of, “oh, what did I learn from that?”. We can only really move forward together by learning from our mistakes and behavior. That seems to be a particular challenge for younger generations because of how close we are to social media and how it promotes this type of perfection where you do everything right. The idea of perfection is such an ingrained notion in society, whether it be with our food, whether it be the people we are or how we look.

I think there’s value in things that are unique and different. And that’s what we’re (Bruized) trying to do with food.

What then would be your advice to a young person who also feels overwhelmed by the issue of food waste?

That’s definitely me. I get very overwhelmed. But I think it’s important to focus on the small changes you’re making every day and realize that this is making a difference. As long as we’re moving forward, no matter what speed or how much at a time — that’s still change being made. So I think its important to translate that energy into what we can do with the tools we have and with our own abilities. That’s a hard thing to do when you’re hit with so much information — I definitely get that with climate change anxiety. But I try to stop and think that in that moment I can be using that energy to find solutions on how we can move forward.

This interview was conducted as part of the CEC’s #ShrinkFoodWaste Campaign which aims to bring attention to the problem of food waste in North American homes, communities, and cities. If you’re curious about how food loss and waste affect us all, please visit the Food Matters Action Kit and learn more about what you can do to #ShrinkFoodWaste.

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