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Food & Hunger

New Toronto Grocery Store Lets Its Customers Pay What They Can

In a bid to tackle food insecurity in Canada, Toronto chef Jagger Gordon launched a pay-what-you-can grocery store in Toronto this past Saturday.

The Feed It Forward Grocery Store, Bakery, and Coffee Shop, located at 3324 Dundas Street West in the Junction, had a successful first day with about 200 customers showing up to fill their baskets.

Gordon started to recognize food insecurity issues as his daughter began coming home early from sleepovers with her friends, because other homes didn’t always have food for them for breakfast.

Take Action: Ask Prime Minister Trudeau To Ensure All Canadian Kids Get the Food They Need To Thrive

"That kind of woke me up," Gordon told Global Citizen. "And I started doing my due diligence into the neighbourhood and then I expanded further from there, and I pushed myself out into Canada to figure out how much food is going to waste and how many people are living with food insecurities."

One in eight households is food insecure in Canada, according to a food insecurity policy research report by PROOF in 2012. That accounts for over 4 million people, including 1.15 million children.

After noticing the amount of wasted food, acknowledging emissions resulting from landfills, and beginning to understand Canadian food insecurities, Gordon got to work.

Read More: Food Waste Sharing Is Up Nearly 60% in Just 1 Year, Says Leading UK Charity

It’s actually time to make a difference and start showing, showcasing to Canadians that we can all work together.

Last year, the chef launched a pay-what-you-can restaurant with an outdoor air market in Toronto, and he has built on the sliding scale model from there.

The idea is that food that would otherwise go to waste, like ugly, bruised, or blemished foods, are utilized in the restaurant — and now grocery store — thus helping to feed the hungry and eliminate food waste at the same time.

"What I obtain is everything from grocery stores to food terminals [to] markets,” Gordon said. “Anyone that wants to participate in my program has stepped forward and has donated between 500 to 1,000 pounds a day now [since last year]."

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Greenwood Farms in Whitby even donated a 200-acre farm to the cause, where Feed It Forward was able to plant and harvest over 20,000 pounds of vegetables last year. Gordon says they plan to double that this year.

"I’ve taken my savings and I’ve invested it into my future by trying to make a difference with the food insecurities here in Canada," he said. "It's like going back to university and buying myself a food insecurity degree. I’m looking at learning and changing things that I can. So I’m investing in myself and to the community by showcasing how it can be done."

Some experts argue that this model is not sustainable, as it does not provide a sure way to cover costs.

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University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Business marketing professor Claire Tsai told the Canadian Press that she doesn’t expect this model to work well with produce.

"When people think about groceries, people want to save money," Tsai told the Canadian Press. "It's not the same as going out to eat. Going out to eat is a time for us to enjoy ourselves — people are more generous in buying alcohol, buying drinks. When you are in this mindset of shopping for groceries, people look for savings."

Still, she admits the charitable aspect could push the initiative to work in a close neighbourhood.

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Other experts, like University of Guelph marketing expert Brent McKenzie agreed that some will see it as a free for all, but that public perception could encourage people to do the right thing.

"It’s hard to justify how something is going to fail that hasn’t been done," Gordon said in response to critics.

The way Gordon sees it, he’s taking the time to personally prove how this business model can work. He’s not asking for handouts and he doesn’t expect to profit from this initiative, but he believes it can succeed.

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For now, costs will be covered by his catering business’ revenue, as well as through donations and fundraisers. He’s also in the process of registering the initiative as a charity, so there will be opportunities for investors or sponsorships in the future.

"All it takes is one person, one company that’s like-minded that wants to make a donation or invest, to put their name next to ours…" he said. "I’m creating a dream that’s coming alive and it’s going to be sustainable because I’m making it happen."

Gordon said the neighbourhood was very receptive to the grocery store, and he has many projects planned to tackle food insecurity across Canada this year.

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"It’s actually time to make a difference and start showing, showcasing to Canadians that we can all work together," he said. "This is just the tip of the iceberg."

Global Citizen campaigns on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, including issues related to hunger, knowing that tackling food insecurity is key to ending extreme poverty by 2030. You can take action here.