Campus club cooks free vegan meals on campus, promotes sustainability

Looking for a way to combat food waste, practice sustainability, and make delicious vegan meals? The People’s Republic of Delicious (PRD) has that covered.

PRD is a club at the University of Ottawa that meets weekly, preparing vegan meals with food that would have otherwise been thrown out. They get most of the food from Herb and Spice, a grocer on Bank St., and cook free meals on campus.

“It was started by a small group of activists on campus who just wanted to highlight how much food waste accumulates in grocery stores and on campus,” said club co-coordinator and fourth-year health sciences student Andrea Zukowski.

The club uses reclaimed food and keeps tabs on how many pounds of food they prevent from going to the landfill. It’s “pre-dumpster,” Zukowski put it, as the club partners with grocery stores to get blemished or near-expired food.

“We collect food from Herb and Spice and other local grocery stores that would actually go to the landfill,” said Kori Liversage, a fourth-year psychology student and co-coordinator with the club. “People from all over can come and join. It’s an all-inclusive space. Community members, faculty members, students can all just come, they learn different skills about how to cook different vegetable meals.”

Liversage added that through their work, PRD is “rescuing anywhere from 30–70 pounds of food a week.”

Using food that looks bad but is still fine to eat also teaches students about their own food waste. This isn’t an issue that only exists in grocery stores, Zukowski and Liversage pointed out. Individual homes create a large amount of food waste, something that PRD hopes they can decrease.

PRD also fills an advocacy role, hoping to change the way grocery stores think about their food waste. This year, the club received a grant from the Alex Trebek Innovation and Challenge Fund that they want to use to start a dialogue with the large grocery stores.

“The action of taking this food that would have otherwise been thrown out is a political act,” said Zukowski. “Just to say that yes, we are reclaiming this food that you think is not good but we do.”

They hope that by expressing interest in this food headed to the dumpster, the group can incentivize grocery stores to make their food more accessible, which will have large impacts on people who have difficulty affording food in the store.

“Food is a basic human right, and it shouldn’t be just, okay it’s either in the grocery store or nobody gets it,” Liversage said.

The club also promotes veganism, although many in the group are not vegans themselves. On one hand, this is because most of the food they use is vegetables, but they also promote veganism as a more sustainable lifestyle, and hope to dispel common myths about vegans.

“It’s just dispelling that stereotype that only hippies and people who are interested in the environment and just passionate about this one thing can promote environmentally sound practices. As you can see in there, there’s a diverse group here,” Zukowski said, who admits she held stereotypes of vegans before she joined the group.

The group meets every Wednesday in Déjà Vu to cook. They usually prepare stir fries over rice, salads, and potato dishes, but the meals can also be a surprise. This week, for instance, they made vegan poutine.

“You just get to learn to cook,” said Zukowski. “What’s better than that?”