Thursday, May 5, 2011

Thoughts on Change Through: Food Systems

This week, I had the pleasure of attending a fantastic discussion put on by the organizers of Change Through ______. The topic of the day was Food Systems. In Vancouver, there are many passionate people who gather to discuss local issues, and this was a good representation.

The format was not completely lecture-style, but instead welcomed much more participation from the audience, and opened the floor to anyone who wanted to contribute.

There were three speakers and a moderator to get the ball rolling on the topic. Anthony Nicalo (@foodtree), chef and entrepreneur, asked questions of Arzeena Hamir (@arzeena) with Richmond Food Security Society, Herb Barbolet, food activist and author, and Mijune Pak (@followmefoodie), author of the blog Follow Me Foodie.

Here are some of the notes that I took away from this event:

Most of the work done in this world is still related to feeding ourselves in some manner. However, we are still so detached to the process by which we get this food and how it is made. Many people do not participate in the system other than as consumers. This is due to the globalization, corporatization, and consolidation of resources to just a few suppliers.

Food is a commonality between every single person. We all need it to survive and it should act as a binder to bring people together.

Change to food systems is already taking place on a neighbourhood scale, with people who have shown an interest. How do we reach those who are not attending events like Change Through _______? There is very little representation of minority and low-income communities with food system/policy dialogue.

A question was brought up: should we continue to eat food not grown in BC/Canada and how does it affect those who have immigrated here? For example, should rice be made unavailable to Asian Canadian or Indo-Canadian families? How will this change their culture? On the flip side, why are we not open to learning more about other systems used around the world, which have been around longer and are more sustainable than our own? Perhaps we should take advice from other cultures instead of making new Canadians assimilate to our way of life.

It is not a problem of not making enough food, just that we export much of it. For example, quinoa, a nutrient-dense grain/seed, has become a hot commodity in North America as of late. Those producing it in South America (mainly Peru and Bolivia) are earning money by exporting it, but they also lose the chance to use the food to feed their own people. To put it a bit closer to home, we learned that many people who use food banks in Canada are farmers in the prairie provinces. The producers of our food are not even able to enjoy the fruits of their labour (pun intended).

The conversation then turned to the language of food. It is a loaded topic; morality and judgment are inherent in it. Without even realizing it, one might place judgment on a fellow shopper’s items in the checkout line at the grocery store. A change in policy goes along with a change in our perception of the subject, and language is a big part of that.

In that vein, there is a group working on changing Vancouver’s policies surrounding food. They are very aptly named Vancouver Food Policy Council. Check out their website for more details.

If anyone else attended this event or something similar, please feel free to add your comments.

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