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FoodGrads Podcast Ep 30: Tackling Canada’s food waste problem with Lori Nikkel CEO of Second Harvest

On episode 30 of the FoodGrads we interviewed Lori Nikkel, the Chief Executive Officer of Second Harvest, Canada’s largest food rescue charity. They recover fresh, unsold food to protect the environment and provide immediate hunger relief.

In this episode, Lori spoke to Veronica about her role at Second Harvest and all the amazing things that they do from rescuing food to developing training and educational programs such as those for food safety and food waste reduction. They talked about how they are a data-driven company and the Lori also cleared up some misconceptions she had about working at a charity and learn more about why her job as a CEO is to actually work Second Harvest out business.

Show Notes

[1:45] Can you tell me more about Second Harvest and your role there?

  • Lori’s main role is to rescue surplus perishable food across the supply chain and make sure that it gets to charities and nonprofits across the country.
  • Second Harvest also does research because all of their decisions are driven by good solid data.
  • Lori has a long background in food security and agriculture prior to becoming CEO. She was surprised that she could not find Canadian data, everybody was kind of using this old FAO data and it wasn’t accurate. She commissioned value chain management international, and that’s what they do. They are food loss of waste experts and researchers to commission, a study, which we have called the affordable crisis of food waste, where we learned to 58% of all food produced for Canadians is lost or wasted.

[5:29] Where’s this food waste coming from?

  • Second Harvest learned manufacturing and processing is the highest amount of food lost and wasted across that chain.
  • Retail is really quite small and is only 4% of all the food that’s lost and wasted, household’s only contribute to about 20%
  • Second Harvest made something called the “Roadmap” and it follows a tomato through it’s lifecycle. It shows where the food waste happens on it’s journey.

[5:52] Would you be able to give an example from a producer standpoint, let’s go to the a tomato example, what’s happening there?

  • A lot of this is based on what we call aesthetic criteria. When someone makes a forecast on how much tomatoes to grow they have to forecast high because there could be a weather event or a number of reasons which cause less to be produced. But then there are specifications. For example, a burger joint wants the tomatoes to be a certain size. If that burger joint refuses the tomatoes they can’t actually sell it to another burger joint because they have their own specifications. Grocery stores are the same with customer specifications.
  • Another culprit to food loss and waste is arbitrary best before dates. Best before dates are not an indication of safety. It is an arbitrary date put out by manufacturers to sell product.
  • Second Harvest has a resource on exactly how long your food is good for.

[8:37] Do you have workshops that help to explain these types of things?

[10:29] Lori talks about careers in charities

  • As a CEO of a charity, it’s Lori’s job to put this place out of business because what charities do is they are filling a gap because there is something wrong intrinsically with our system
  • In our food system, there’s a problem. We have too much food loss and waste in our social service system.
  • People just know that when you go into charity, it’s not for career. I mean, it can be, but it’s really just, they want to solve a solution.
  • Lori went to school for computer science, which is fascinating of assistance analyst, but I was also incredibly poor. And came to food security because I had to feed my own three kids and I was 26 with three sons. She had volunteered at the child nutrition program to help support her own kids, to get the food that they needed.
  • She worked at an organization called FoodShare and is really passionate about child nutrition, because if students do not have the right food in their bodies, they, their educational outcomes is significantly lower which is completely unfair that just because you do not have the money or your parents do not have the money to provide you the necessary cities that you may need.

[15:46] Could you talk about what it is like working in the charity space?

  • It’s a business like any other business
  • Second Harvest is compliant to the same rules and regulations as any other business. They have staff working logistics, technology and even innovation. with CRA we have compliance rules around food safety, like any food business.
  • It is the same as a corporate structure except for charities you are mission driven rather than cost.
  • Whatever you are passionate about. There was a charity that you could be working at.
  • Second Harvest is innovative. They built out their technology platforms and are being used nationally

[18:04] Do, you mind me asking without specifying amounts like these jobs are paid, right?

  • These jobs are paid
  • Second Harvest believes in paying people a fair living wage. There there to fix social injustice.
  • Volunteers are often low-income people. And there something wrong with the mentality of asking them to work for free.

[21:00] What is your ideal vision of Canada in terms of a food supply system? What are you striving for with your program?

  • An agricultural system that didn’t waste would be really the ideal.
  • Lori sits on Canada’s food policy, council advisory council, just to figure out what kind of legislative leavers could put in place to ensure that we are really eliminating as much food loss and waste as possible.

[21:45] Could you actually tell me a little bit more about that and what, what that type of role looks like?

  • Canada has a mandate, a food policy ban. There were a number of people selected to sit on the food policy council with different backgrounds, and focused on different things.
  • The goal is really to build out or recommend to the minister potential legislative. Or policy items that could have a significant impact and looking at it, from every angle. So how is this going to impact industry? How does this impact, charities? They are making recommendations based and really solid a science and understanding.

[23:25] What exactly is a policy? Like what is it a suggestion? Is it something that follows through with rules?

  • It’s exactly that.
  • You can create an incentive policy. So like a tax incentive, for example, to farmers, to, to donate their food.
  • Alternatively, you can not incentivize and instead have a consequence to not having preventative measures like a health and safety. If you don’t have appropriate health and safety measures in your business, then you can be fined or you can be arrested.

[25:47] What have been some of the most important skills that you’ve picked up over your career that you’re using now and is there any that you’re working on right now?

  • Many are soft skills. That is really about leadership and mentorship and coaching and understanding and reading people and listening. I’m a great lifelong learner and I love to listen and I love to.
  • There is no one that Lori won’t talk to it honestly. Like I learned all that. Well, you know, there’s nobody you won’t talk to because there’s always something to learn. Even when you think, you know everything well, if you think, you know, everything, you’re always wrong. And if you’re the smartest person in the room, then get out of the room, get into another room.
  • Lori is always learning new things even in food loss and waste. She had to learn about technology. We built out a national app. She had to learn about marketing communications, awareness about international politics.
  • Be kind, be good to people because that’s really what matters.

[29:31] Is there any like new ways or services that you would recommend to, to help limit food waste?

  • Composting is not actually all that helpful. It’s still creates a bit of greenhouse gases.
  • Buy less food
  • Disregard best before dates use your common sense and measure the amount of food that you’re wasting. Eyeball it, write it down and then write down how much that costs you. And at the end of the week, see how much money you’ve wasted, because that is a motivator and you can’t get excited about climate.

[34:16] What would you give advice for someone who wants to go into this food waste space or to make something for their career in that area?

  • Be passionate about it and deeply interested in it.
  • There are opportunities and most of them are not in the nonprofit space.
  • In the corporate space these corporations and food businesses are looking at diminishing the amount of food loss and waste they have right across the supply chain.
  • Second Harvest Resources

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