What’s one of the ugliest facts of food waste? “We don’t have a shortage of food; we have an excess,” registered holistic nutritionist Amanda Slater tells the Straight by phone. “Food wastage happens before it even hits the grocery store, before it hits our tables and restaurants. It happens at the farms.”
Indeed, the Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that globally, one-third—or 1.3 billion tonnes—of food farmed, transported, and prepared for human consumption goes uneaten every year. When it comes to produce, many “unattractive” fruits and veggies never even reach grocers.
It’s an alarming figure, one that was at the forefront of Slater’s mind when, in 2015, she enrolled in Groundswell Grassroots Economic Alternatives’ social venture program, which offers budding entrepreneurs the education and mentorship needed to help bring their socially and environmentally responsible business ideas to life. It was then that she founded Rebel Soup, a recently launched startup that produces healthy, 100-percent-vegan broths using “ugly” produce.
“I said, ‘I’ll use my background in nutrition, highlight the nutritional qualities of the soup, and provide people with a healthy and accessible meal,’ ” the B.C. native recalls, explaining that she had previously operated a soup club for friends and family in 2014.
Working with local farmers, Slater transforms misshapen, blemished, and generally unsellable fruits and vegetables into wholesome bisques, stews, chowders, and more. Her plant-based dishes are made with as few ingredients as possible, emphasizing natural flavours over artificial additives. They also conveniently hide unsightly veggies without sacrificing their nutritional qualities.
Because Rebel Soup relies heavily on the crops available from farmers, the menu is constantly changing. Currently, Slater offers a sassy carrot and parsnip soup, a sweet-spicy bisque infused with garam masala, ginger, and coconut milk; the energy-boosting Love’in Lemons Lentils; and Just in Thyme for Squash, a soul-warming classic that’s all about the gourds.
Slater also has chickpea stew packed with vitamin C and a mushroom-and-leek soup in the works, as well as some out-of-the-pot recipes like a “drunken” chili that uses leftover beer from local breweries. Customers may become members of Rebel Soup’s soup club online, where they can choose to receive between one and four flavours a week for one month, starting at $40.
The soups are packaged in reusable 750-millilitre jars, which customers can return for a one-dollar refund. They’re available at Groundswell (566 Powell Street) and are delivered in select areas at the start of each week. Slater hopes to have the soups available at various farmers markets and cafés over the next few months.
By utilizing foods that typically aren’t sold by retailers, Rebel Soup ensures that the resources needed to produce them—seeds, water, fertilizers, and land—don’t go to waste. It also helps support local farmers. “They’re getting money in their pockets for this produce they’re growing that otherwise they wouldn’t be paid for, which is amazing,” notes Slater.
Most importantly, perhaps, the startup gives Vancouverites a handy way to embrace a more sustainable or zero-waste lifestyle.
“I think it can be overwhelming making the transition, whether it’s reducing your food waste at home or reducing your food-waste packaging,” she adds. “Wherever you want to start, wherever you are—I want to be one step that makes it easier for people to be a part of that.”