There's a community economic development equivalent to Jesus' miracle of loaves and fishes, and the Ontario Association of Food Banks has just discovered it.It's called soup. The association intends to to ladle out a million bowls a year to hungry folks across the province. Called Generous Servings, the project will see one professional cook and 19 youth formerly living dangerously close to the street cutting, chopping and simmering their way to full employment.Here's how the ingenious scheme works. Start with the premise that about 40 per cent of the food produced in the world is wasted because no one can figure out how to make money with it.
Across North America, for instance, lots of apples and eggs aren't marketable simply because they're too small, or carrots because they're crooked or stubby. Garlic gets dumped if a clove falls off the bulb. chicken feet and beaks get tossed into landfill because few people know they're the best base for chicken soups.Organizers liken the program to the famous fairy tale featuring two soldiers who convince some villagers they can make soup from a stone alone - though the soup would doubtless benefit from any food locals could add; once the villagers start pitching in a carrot here, an onion there, a delicious potage starts boiling over the fire.Says the association's Bob Spencer, "It's pretty simple. You start with lead. Then you turn it into gold." Spencer figured there was a way to save all this unused food from the dumpster and make some stone soup that creates wins for the economy, environment, community and health. Through Human Resources Development Canada, Dennis Metcalfe was able to rustle up $650,000 to start the industrial kitchen at Islington and New Toronto, and the rest just took Spencer's stirring.
He got building trades unions to donate paint, painters, blocks, cement and masons. He got Karsuh Clothing, producers of Roots' famous lines, to donate uniforms for the cooks-in-training. He got pig farmers to donate stewing pork, poultry farmers to donate chicken legs and feet, and dairies to donate milk that would go off if not used immediately. "We can use that milk right away in a cream soup that refrigerated stays good for at least a month," he says.
The liquid dinners will be frozen in 5-litre bags and transported free by Erb Transportation across the city and the province."In a soup, when you add one thing to another you make both of them more valuable than they were on their own," Spencer says.
This is what soup is all about. Unlike bread, steak and wine, iconic foods of the civilized classes, soup is classic folk or soul food. It's a one-pot meal, crucial for pre-20th-century cooks. It makes use of pretty much any ingredients that are at hand, including tough cuts of meat that get tenderized over a boil.
Soups are ladled out in "servings," not "portions," another reminder that food was once more about service and "helpings" shared in community than about commodities eaten in private.
Ugly carrots aren't the only ingredients given a second life. The youth trainees will get 40 weeks of job readiness training while they learn about food preparation and warehouse skills under the supervision of professional industrial cook Kemp Rickett.
If the trainees hang in for the full 40 weeks they're guaranteed employment interviews with a number of major companies in the area.
Whatever ingredients can't be used in the soups (the OAFB and Daily Bread Food Bank throw out about 2 million pounds of unusable food a year) will be composted and used in the community gardens that are starting to take shape on the property. Spencer and his colleagues hope the food banks can serve as a model of a "zero-waste" facility.
Amazing to think how easily we could make a dent in the hunger problem if we stop thinking of waste as a problem and start recognizing it as a resource.