The greater good: integration in a surplus food management system

Author/s:  Amy Farahbakhsh    

Creation date: 2015-02-25

Contact info:

Senior supervisor: Meg Holden

Keywords: surplus food management, systems thinking, intermediary, food systems planning, Vancouver 

Geographic focus: Vancouver, BC; British Columbia; Canada

Research question/s: How does surplus food management in Vancouver behave as a system, and what are the opportunities for optimizing the function of surplus food management?


Food insecurity has significantly increased in Canada since 2008, despite there being no evidence of a food shortage based on production levels and the fact that one-third of food is wasted. Effectively managing surplus food helps people in need access that food and also serves environmental goals by diverting that food from landfills. It also serves various economic goals, such as providing cost-effective ways for food vendors to deal with products that can’t be sold. While there is an established network of organizations in Vancouver that directs surplus food to hungry people, this system is not always well-coordinated. Thus, it’s clear that Vancouver (and other cities) have much to gain from considering how surplus food is managed. This study explores surplus food management in the City of Vancouver, including the organizations involved, the behaviour of the system, and opportunities for improvement. The analysis addresses environmental policy integration, systems thinking for sustainable development, food systems planning, and approaches to food security.


Through stakeholder interviews, document analysis and volunteering with a food redistributor, the author found that Vancouver’s system for managing surplus food has developed organically and seems to serve the needs of the organizations involved. However, the author also found various challenges, including that recipient organizations routinely receive unhealthy or unusable food, yet withhold feedback due to the fear of losing donations or underminining their relationships with donors. More generally, the author found that financial constraints, agenda conflicts and some ineffective relationships are obstacles to further reducing food waste and ensuring that more people in need receive nutritious food. The author recommends the creation of an intermediary agency to bridge gaps in service, enhance capacity to appropriately use surplus food, and mediate relationships among participating organizations.