Have you ever combed through the produce aisle at the grocery store to find that perfect apple while mindfully diverting the slightest bruise, bump or imperfection?
Selecting unblemished fruits and veggies during our weekly grocery runs may seem innocent enough, but our quest for that perfect peach is becoming a big problem given the enormous increase of food waste across the globe.
“Food waste is one of those dirty little secrets that you don’t realize until you actually go to a landfill site and see these giant trucks dumping out huge amounts of food that never make it to people homes for them to eat. It's quite appalling,” said USask alumnus Dr. Darren Burke (PhD’01).
As the CEO of Outcast Foods, Burke is rewriting the rules when it comes to how we consume produce, all in the hopes of combating the intensifying problem of food waste.
The Halifax native credits his time as a PhD student at USask’s College of Kinesiology for the insight into the issue. He researched dietary supplements and exercise interventions which paved the way for his future passions.
After his time at USask, he moved back to the East Coast to become a university professor and was heralded as a top scientific expert in the development and testing of supplements and sports nutrition.
However, it wasn’t until Burke moved to Vancouver and dove headfirst into the vegan West-Coast lifestyle that he became keenly aware of the global impact food waste had on the environment. He decided to marry his two worlds of academia and entrepreneurship together to mitigate the problem, one that was becoming abundantly more urgent to him the more he researched.
According to Burke, grocery distribution centres around the world reject food based on the smallest impurities. This means that even if a small section of a shipment is damaged, distributors will discard the entire load instead of removing the small sample.
But Burke is adamant one rotten apple doesn’t spoil the batch and says he’s 100 per cent confident there is always value to be found in products often destined for the landfill.
That’s where Outcast Foods steps in. They take the discarded produce, soak it a vinegar solution and put it through their own processing system. This unique upcycling process results in dehydrated supplements and powders that can add a nutritional kick to smoothies, baking and everyday cooking.
While once laughed at by an industry devoted to providing unsustainable perfection, the uptick of mindful consumer behaviours from millennials and generation Z has helped him push his goal forward.
“The one wonderful thing with that cohort is that they are so environmentally aware and socially responsible as a population, and they're buying habits have moved into that direction. That’s requiring retailers to embrace brands that are being sustainable.”
How do you like them apples?
Overall, Burke is taking small steps to create a sustainable way we produce and eat food. With added investors and expansion opportunities, he says the future looks bright for Outcast Foods, which is hopeful considering rotting food in landfills continues to produce greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
“The one thing that no one really predicted was the accelerated pace that this large amount of food waste is doing in terms of contributing to global warming.
“As a population we have to tackle food waste in every way possible. Reeducating people around what can be done with potential food waste is really a key piece at this point in time.”