Two women and a man holding boxes of leftover food for LifTOvers

LifTOvers volunteers picking up food from Women in Planetary Sciences Conference at the University of Toronto /
Photography Courtesy of L
ifTOvers

Fighting food waste and food insecurity together

Two Toronto women are making food waste a thing of the past—and feeding hungry people in the process

When Shiva Mazrouei attended two conferences last year, she was bothered by the amount of food left over at each—little sandwich wraps, fresh fruit, veggies with dip—all perfectly good eats that looked like they were going to get tossed out. “I didn’t want to see the food go to waste,” she says.

Concerned, she asked and learned that, at one event, the venue had a connection with local services that could distribute the surplus, but the other one didn’t. So, Mazrouei stuck around afterwards, encouraging attendees to make themselves doggie bags. “I was begging people to please take the food home, give it to your families, please, hand it out to someone,” she says. She knew there was probably a better way to salvage excess food. It was a topic she regularly discussed with her friend, Trisha Islam, who also noticed that food from events she attended was going to waste.

boxes of coffee and muffins with lifTOvers sign

Donations are given to nearby groups providing food to those who need / Photography Courtesy of LifTOvers 

For Islam, the subject of food insecurity hits close to home. “I grew up in poverty,” she says. “I think that’s where my passion for this comes from—from not having a lot of food growing up and from having a great mom who never wasted it when we did have it.” The two women met at McGill University, where they were studying international development, and bonded over their shared passion for solving problems of poverty and food insecurity (they now both work full time in the not-for-profit sector).

According to Toronto Public Health, food insecurity affects one in every eight households in Toronto. And when you consider that $31 billion worth of food is wasted in Canada every year, it all just seems like a giant (insert flushing sound here). Mazrouei and Islam felt certain that all the wasted food from events was a missed opportunity. “We wished there was a service that could come and pick it up from us and deliver it to someone who needed it,” Mazrouei says. There wasn’t. So, like any smart, capable women with a clear goal in mind, they did it themselves.

“I think that’s where my passion for this comes from—from not having a lot of food growing up and from having a great mom who never wasted it when we did have it.”

LifTOvers is the result. The site launched in February 2018 to connect event organizers and caterers in possession of leftover food with agencies throughout Toronto, such as the Fort York Food Bank and Allen Gardens Community Exchange,that distribute it to those in need. Currently, organizers are asked to put in a request through the website at least 24 hours before an event (even if they don’t know how much food to expect). As long as LifTOvers’ volunteers are available, they’ll show up to ferry whatever is left to a nearby food provider. Think of them as the middlemen—or middlewomen—of leftovers.

Islam and Mazrouei decided to focus on finding a solution for wasted event food specifically because it seemed like a tractable problem, whereas the overall issue of poverty and food insecurity is overwhelmingly big. They believe that, with enough support, they can make real change.

In the meantime, the women are setting their sights on growing LifTOvers. “We’d like to be able to provide instant responses and instant service and we’d really like to see this service expand so it’s available all throughout the city,” Islam says. And for that, they’ll need volunteers. Why not sign up to help at www.liftovers.ca?