About $31 billion worth of food is thrown away annually in Canada. Meanwhile, more than 850,000 Canadians rely on food banks for their next meal, including many children.

So why does good food go to waste in this country while so many are struggling to feed their families?

That’s a question that has long bothered social justice advocate Tammara Soma. She is head of the recently created Food Systems Lab, which seeks to better understand food waste and how to prevent it.

Soma says that while $31 billion of food waste might sound like a lot, that’s actually a conservative estimate.

“The true cost of food waste when you factor in the energy that is wasted (to produce the food), is actually close to $107 billion annually,” she told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday.

The United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that the full cost of food waste is approximately two and a half times greater than the “face value” of the wasted food, because of the wasted water, energy, labour, capital investment, and more.

Soma says most food that gets thrown away in Canada – a full 47 per cent – occurs in the home.

“Consumers like you or I throw away about $1,500 worth of wasted groceries annually. So that’s a lot of money. But at the same time, there’s also retailing waste, farm waste and processing waste. So it’s all across the food supply chain,” she said.

Soma’s research has led to her to push for what she calls “a circular economy” and a “closed loop food system” so that “wasted” food is composted and returned to the land as nutrients so that at least it is not wasted, but actually has a use.

“It is basically like a circle, so there’s no beginning and there’s no end. Everything is fed back into the food system,” she explained.

“The idea is if you have food scraps, you compost it and then you use it again to grow food. This is similar to an indigenous world view that sees everything as interconnected.”

Since most food waste is happening in the home, all Canadians can make small changes to help with the problem.

Some of Soma’s recommendations include:

  • Do frequent, smaller shopping trips to avoid buying too much
  • Stop focusing on “stocking up,” since a lot of waste comes from forgotten food that is stored away
  • Take up vegetable gardening, since studies show that people who grow their own food tend to waste food less.
  • Use the freezer for foods that are about to start going bad
  • Cook in large batches and freeze the leftovers
  • Use the blender for wilting and browning fruit and turn them into smoothies
  • Compost all food scraps in the garden or through municipal composting programs