Photo of Chef Jagger Gordon standing outside his grocery store in his chef whites holding a basket of fresh bread.

Chef Jagger Gordon’s war on food waste

Here’s how this activist chef diverts food waste and fights hunger at the same time

Toronto chef Jagger Gordon has made it his mission to stop our bad habit of wasting food—and help those in need along the way.

“The job will never be done for me until there is a law in place that prevents edible food from going to the landfills,” says the longtime catering pro and founder of Feed It Forward, an organization that diverts food waste to feed hungry families throughout the GTA.

Canadians throw out more than $1,000 in groceries every year, but the problem is bigger than the rotting produce at the back of our fridges. It also happens at every step of our food supply chain, from the produce that doesn’t make it to the grocery store to the unsold food in restaurants thrown out at the end of the evening. All told, more than $31 billion worth of food, or 40% of all food produced in Canada, is wasted every year.

Meanwhile, the Daily Bread Food Bank reported nearly 1 million people used their services in Toronto and North York last year. For Gordon, this is unfathomable. And he’s continuing to launch innovative solutions to get nutritious food into the hands of those who need it.

His latest endeavor is the Feed It Forward store, a pay-what-you-can grocery store, bakery and café in Toronto’s Junction neighbourhood that will let Gordon feed even more people in a dignified way. Shoppers can pick up anything from fresh coffee, bread and baked good to beans, rice and spices. But there are no set prices; when they get to the checkout, customers pay what they can afford—even if that means not paying anything at all. Since opening in June, the store has seen an average of one hundred customers walking through its doors daily.

The store, which has a bring-you-own-containers policy, is stocked thanks to partnerships Gordon has made with farmers and grocery store chains, both of which donate goods and produce that would otherwise go to waste. Currently, 1,500 pounds of donated products arrive every morning.

Gordon and his team also offer shoppers tips to help stretch their groceries further. They discuss recipe ideas with customers, explain what the produce is best used for and send people home with recipes.

This community hub is just the latest evolution of Gordon’s activism. When he first launched his catering company, he was struck by how much food was left over—and subsequently thrown away—at the end of each job. He took action by setting up a commercial freezer and inviting families in need, on rotation, to help themselves to meals. “This fed about 12,000 people a year and it progressed from there,” he says.

His next project was a pay-what-you-can soup bar, which offered food made from produce donated by grocery stores and restaurants.

Feed It Forward has had its ups and downs—early on, Gordon had to shutter the freezer because he didn’t have the budget, or help, to keep it going. But his commitment to a larger goal keeps him going.

“Knowing that I’m doing my best and trying to deal with food insecurity gives me the energy I need to continue on with this quest,” he says.

The grocery store’s early success helps, too. “We’ve created a common place where people from different walks of life can sit down and break bread, share a coffee or a pastry and talk about their lives, and that makes me incredibly happy.”

Try one of Gordon’s favourite recipes!

Photo of grilled watermelon on a plate topped with red onion and herbs.

Photography By Matt Gibson for Sprig Creative

Grilled Watermelon Salad
Serves 4

We’ve all bought a super-sized watermelon on a whim, then wondered how to could get our families to actually eat the whole thing. This new spin on a classic recipe will help.

Ingredients

1/2 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 tbsp sherry vinegar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
12 watermelon wedges (with rinds)
50g feta cheese, crumbled
2 tbsp chopped fresh mint
¼ to ½ tsp chili powder
Salt to taste

1. Place sliced onion in a bowl. Cover with water and 1 tsp of the vinegar.
Soak 15 minutes; drain and set aside.

2. Prepare a medium-hot grill. Using 1 tbsp of the oil, brush the watermelon slices lightly. Grill for about 2-3 minutes per side, or until charred. Remove from heat. Transfer, with any juices, to a large salad bowl.

3. Add in reserved onions, feta and mint.

4. In small bowl, whisk together remaining vinegar and oil, chili powder and salt. Drizzle over watermelon and gently stir to combine. Let sit for a few minutes or for up to an hour. Toss again just before serving.

Food and prop styling by Sprig Creative

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