Hunter Moyes arrives at Harvest Community Foods (243 Union Street) laden with tiffins—round, stainless-steel food containers—that the grocery store/café will be selling as part of the Tiffin Project. The initiative is Moyes’s recently launched eco-baby, a bid to eliminate disposable restaurant takeout containers and to support local agriculture.
Moyes sits at one of the café’s outdoor tables and chats with earnest sincerity about how the project came about. As a chef, he was appalled at the number of disposable containers used for takeout and leftovers. He had his own tiffin that he was using as an alternative when he carried out, but wanted to find a way to spread the gospel to other consumers.
The concept is simple: consumers buy tiffins from participating restaurants or from thetiffinproject.com/ and then get discounts on their food when they put the tiffins to use. The containers are $26, with $4 of that amount helping restaurants buy from local farms. Moyes will work with restaurants on an ingredient-by-ingredient basis, getting them to switch to a local producer by subsidizing the cost difference.
“Localizing food and agriculture is very in line with our values,” says Sarah Wagstaff, operations manager of the Noodle Box (1867 West 4th Avenue and 839 Homer Street), during a phone chat. The restaurant chain received an email from Moyes about nine months ago and immediately responded because they had been doing their own research for a similar concept. As well, since customers were already informally bringing in reusable containers, becoming tiffin-friendly just made sense.
“We go through 750,000 noodle boxes a year. That’s a huge amount,” says Wagstaff. While their containers are compostable, Wagstaff is eager to reduce this number by providing customers with an incentive to switch to the tiffins. They’ll get $2 off their first food bill with the purchase of a tiffin, and $1 thereafter.
Other establishments that have said yes include Nuba, the Waldorf Hotel, Edible Canada, Fable, the Stock Market, and Tacofino, and more are on the way. Moyes does concede that some restaurants may be hesitant about joining because, ultimately, liability rests with them when it comes to consumers bringing in outside containers. The Noodle Box runs the tiffins through its dishwasher before filling them up as an extra precaution.
Personal note: I’ve been taking glass and rubber lidded containers along with me when picking up take out from restaurants in my neighbourhood for several years now. Usually, the restaurants are cool with it, especially if I mention it over the phone when ordering. They’re saving money on packaging after all! But this project takes it to a whole new level. Really hope it succeeds!