On May 16th, Dounia Saeme, Potluck's Program Manager for the Kitchen Tables Project spoke to Vancouver City Council in support of the Zero Waste Strategy. Specifically, the Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy.

Dounia convenes the Chef's Table, a group of kitchen managers and chefs from Downtown Eastside food providing organisations and gathered feedback on how a ban on styrofoam and straws could affect food programs in the neighbourhood. Along with enthusiastic support for the zero waste objectives, she also surfaced several ways the city could support meal providers in adopting the regulations.

Here is the content of her speech to council:

Dear Mayor Robertson and City Councillors,

My name is Dounia Saeme. I am the Project Manager for the Downtown Eastside Kitchen Tables (DTES KT), a project of Potluck Café Society. My role is to ensure we improve the health of DTES residents by increasing the nutrititional value, abundance and availability of food in the DTES. Our further goal is to create opportunities to use food as a vehicle for community economic development. In particular,

  • We employ residents with barriers to employment to operate the DTES Affordable Produce Market.
  •  We create and distribute the DTES Food Access Map to help people navigate meal programs and other food programs.
  •  We operate a Procurement Group, that improves access to healthy fresh foods including produce from local farms for over a dozen DTES meal providers

As part of the Procurement Group, we also convene around fifteen chefs and kitchen managers to talk about the systemic issues they face and ways we can problem solve together. To give you an idea, collectively, the food providers we work with serve over 6000 public meals a day.

I am continuously humbled by the resilience and passion that drives these chefs and managers to stretch every cent of their budgets to prepare nutritious meals for food insecure individuals. And we are talking budgets of what’s often less than $2/meal.

It is my responsibility to communicate front line insights to you and other influential decision makers because I believe that this kind knowledge transfer contributes to building our community’s capacity to address the challenges that keep our food system from being just and sustainable.

This past year the topic of polystyrene items ban and single use item reduction strategy has come up at every one of our meetings.

There is a real sense of urgency and concern as to the repercussions these measures would have on operational costs. You see, many of these kitchens have the desire to move towards reusable plates, cups and cutlery (and a few already have) but tight budgets and the necessity to serve some meals in to-go containers prevents them from complying with the proposed ban.

So we organized a meeting at the end of last November to get the kitchen managers and chefs in a room with the city staff from zero waste team.

We are proud of our city’s Zero Waste goals and we endorse the Single-Use Item Reduction Strategy.

But food providers in the DTES are going to need more time and more support than the conventional food service industry.

In addition to more time to implement these changes, here are a few initiatives council and staff could consider to support nonprofit meal providers

[1] The city could fund a subsidy program to make up for the price difference between compostable and non-compostable containers.

[2] City Capital grants could explicitly allow for funding to pay for the equipment needed to transition into using primarily non-disposables.

 [3] The city could facilitate volume and opportunity buys of compostable disposables as well as re-useable tableware for DTES food providers.

All in all, we support the strategy being recommended and we appreciate city staff’s holistic approach in considering the repercussions of their work on the DTES’ food system.

Everyone should be a part of this shift towards zero waste and we believe that, with your support, we too can phase into this ban.

Thank you for your time.

Dounia P Saeme

Program Manager – DTES Kitchen Tables