Friday, December 9, 2011

5 Ways to Green Your Holiday Food Bank Donations

At this time of year, many people spend a lot of time running around crowded malls in search of gifts for family, friends, colleagues, teachers, neighbours, even mere acquaintances. Little thought is given to the spirit of the holidays and the value of spending more quality time with loved ones. Thankfully, some of us are able to stop for long enough to consider the less fortunate, for whom the daily struggle of putting food on the table far outweighs the desire for accumulating "stuff".

If one of your goals for this month is to make a donation to a local food bank, I'd like to offer the following tips that will ensure your generous contribution will not only feed the hungry, but also leave the smallest footprint on the planet.

  1. Apply the same good food rules you use for your household grocery shopping to the items intended for the donation bin. In other words, choose cans of tuna labelled as line-caught albacore or skipjack, and look for non-perishable items containing locally grown ingredients processed in your area.

  2. Select whole foods rather than overly processed junk food to avoid scary chemical-based additives and preservatives that do as much damage to the environment as they do to human health. Don't forget that the longer the ingredient list, the more energy likely went into the making of the product!

  3. If you can afford to, choose organic food. It's a shame that healthier options cost more in our current food system, but remember that you're voting with your dollars every time you buy better products, whether they are destined for your own dinner table or someone else's.

  4. Try to find cans labelled as BPA-free. It's a tragedy that those who rely on food banks end up ingesting far more bisphenol A than the average person, simply because their veggies and seafood so frequently come in cans, and most cans are lined with BPA. But we can help make a difference!

  5. Avoid plastic and waste: opt for food packaged in cardboard boxes and glass jars (check if your local food bank will accept glass) and select bulk items rather than individual servings, such as oatmeal, juice, and canned fruit. And don't forget to use your reusable grocery bags to transport the food.

For ideas on which items are needed most, please consult the Stop Community Food Centre's website, and consider asking your local food bank about their donation guidelines. May the holidays be happy, healthy, and dignified for all.

Photo of food donation bins used under Creative Commons from photologue_np (flickr).


  1. I do this my own green way. :) Meat is my specialty: I buy some bio meat first. Here I've found several useful tips where to buy the meat in Toronto. Then I pickle it at home according to a traditional recipe from my mom. I always make an additional amount for food banks.

  2. Great tips. I think when we give to food banks, we're often more concerned about cleaning out our cupboards than choosing healthy, earth-friendly foods for people who really need them. We toss the canned spinach in the bin and pat ourselves on the back for being charitable. Thank you for pushing us to look harder at our choices!

  3. Great list Andrea. I agree with Jennifer-many times we are tempted to take things from our own cabinets that we won't use. Thank you for bringing an awareness to this. I know next time I make a donation I will give serious thought to the choices I am making.

  4. Such a great post - something we really should consider!

    I'm up in the Kawartha Lakes region and we worked with some non-profits on "mock grant proposals" and one of the things we were told is that food banks receive alot of expired food - which they have to dispose of. This means volunteers have to open cans - boxes, dispose of the expired food waste and then properly recycle the containers. This takes up volunteer time (which is scarce already), warehouse space that they may not have (for containers until they are properly disposed of) and creates inefficiencies for the food banks. Something else I really hadn't thought about!

  5. Sue - Thanks for the link! I've actually never had pickled meat before and may need to look up a recipe and give that a try at home some day.

  6. Jennifer - So true, many of us make donations when we come across really old cans and jars of food in our cupboards that we'll probably never use. I'd still rather see it go to a food bank than tossed into the trash, but yes, the ideal is to make healthy choices for others like we would for ourselves.

  7. Lori - I'm so glad you feel inspired by my post! Hopefully we will all also be more conscious of what we're bringing into our homes in the first place so that we don't end up with ancient cans sitting in the backs of our cabinets.

  8. Katherine - Thanks, I hope this raises awareness. Thanks also for pointing out the issues related to donating expired food. I hadn't thought about the hours of work involved that could go to better use. I bet that's not what the volunteers thought they were signing up for!