Chef Jagger Gordon dishes about how his Feed It Forward campaign is stepping up its efforts this holiday season
Chef Jagger Gordon, founder and CEO of Feed It Forward, isn’t in it for the money.
Maybe he’s in it because his grandmother gave him a love for food —showing him that it’s more than just something to fill your belly. Or maybe it’s because when he was a kid, he’d sometimes go to a friend’s house for breakfast because there wasn’t much for him to eat at home. Or even because, years later, he discovered that some of his daughter’s friends would come for sleepovers because there was food at his place. “I found out some of these kids had empty fridges at home,” he says.
Gordon, a well-known Toronto chef, has travelled the world and made a name for himself specializing in Indian, Thai, and Mediterranean flavours. But it was his work in catering that opened his eyes to a big problem at home. When Gordon learned that, in Canada, billions of dollars’ worth of otherwise edible food gets thrown out every year, he wanted to do something about it. “You have to lead by example,” he says. “People will follow. You just have to give them a reason.”
That calling evolved in 2014 into Feed It Forward, a non-profit encompassing a 200-acre farm in Whitby, a mobile food-truck program, and Canada’s first pay-what-you-can grocery store, which parlays discarded food from restaurants, supermarkets and bakeries into nutritious meals and available produce for people experiencing food insecurity.
During the pandemic, with restaurants shuttered and Gordon’s own catering business dried up, he put out a call to action to chefs in Toronto to help feed seniors and low-income residents struggling under lockdown. And the city stepped up. Places like the CN Tower, the Food Terminal and Impact Kitchen donated to Feed It Forward. Oyster Boy gave oysters and Osmow’s Shawarma offered more than 1,000 pounds of chicken. Feed It Forward was preparing about 5,000 meals a day and built up a bank of almost 60,000 frozen meals to be distributed through community organizations. Every Monday night, people would line up at Nathan Phillips Square, where Gordon and his team of volunteers handed out meals. And he didn’t forget about pets, either. Gordon started making them food from the same waste, after realizing that people who are struggling will often feed their pets first.
Now, Feed It Forward has gone digital with a free app. It works like this: Let’s say someone is going away for the weekend and doesn’t want the food in their fridge to go to waste. Home cooks, restaurants, markets and farmers can upload a photo of their surplus and set a pickup location, allowing people to see what’s available and where.
Which leads one to ask how he pays for all of this. Money, Gordon says, comes primarily from sponsorships, his catering company, takeachef.com, donations and from his grocery store. But, he adds, don’t underestimate the money saved by 2,000 volunteers providing free labour.
This Christmas, with the help of some of those volunteers, Gordon plans to give away 150,000 free holiday meals. To kick off the campaign, he will be dishing out 1,000 free gourmet burgers at the pay-what-you-can his grocery on Dundas Street West later this month.
After all these years, Gordon has not lost his passion for getting food to those who need it. “I don’t ask for much,” he says, “except for people to understand that there’s a way to think (about food) differently.”