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Food security: More about economics than salmonella

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Photo by John Barker

Patricia-Ann Solomon, a dietician with the Burntwood Regional Health Authority (BRHA), right, and Jeannine Merasty, left, a third-year social work student from the University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Social Work Northern Bachelor of Social Work Program in Thompson, who is doing her placement at the Wapanohk Community School, were on hand at City Centre Mall Oct. 15 to promote World Food Day as members of the Burntwood Food Security Committee.

The Burntwood Food Security Committee was out at City Centre Mall Oct. 15 – trying to tap into a large Saturday base of shoppers the day before annual World Food Day the next day on Sunday, Oct. 16 – says Patricia-Ann Solomon, a dietician with the Burntwood Regional Health Authority (BRHA).

Solomon, who was involved in a similar education effort on behalf of the Burntwood Food Security Committee last year, says the most common misconception people walking up to their display have is that it is primarily about food safety – for example food safety issues such as salmonella or campylobacter bacteria and food poisoning.

The World Food Day display in October, along with activities in March during Nutrition Month, mark the two biggest public educate initiatives of the Burntwood Food Security Committee every year, says Solomon, although the committee does go into selection venues, such as schools, at times during the rest of the year.

While food safety is a component of overall food security issues, in this case the security the committee wants to talk about involved mainly economic considerations around food supply and availability, she says.

Solomon co-chairs the Burntwood Food Security Committee with Erin Wilcox, executive director of the Thompson Zoo, which is active with an Earth Roots Camp during the summer designed for agencies such as the Boys and Girls Club, MMWT camp, and New Beginnings with a focus on gardening, soil ecology, zoology and other environmental programing. The committee meets monthly on average throughout the year, Solomon says.

“Food security is the assurance that all people at all times have both the physical and economic access to the food they need for an active, healthy life. It means that the food itself is nutritionally adequate, and culturally appropriate, and that this food is obtained in a way that upholds basic human dignity,” the committee said in its literature last year.

“This is Burntwood’s vision, that all residents have access to healthy foods. Their mission is to establish partnerships with community groups, community leaders, businesses, government, and local residents, in order to develop strategies to ensure secure access to safe, nutritious, culturally acceptable foods for everyone in a manner that maintains human dignity.”

Food security, the committee says, is built on three basic pillars: Food availability, meaning having enough food on a everyday basis; food access, meaning being able to get nutritious, yet affordable food; and food use; meaning having a basic knowledge of healthy and safe food preparation and methods.

In literature distributed in 2010, the Burntwood Food Security Committee said about “60 per cent of all households on social assistance are food insecure. These households can’t afford the cost of basic needs, including a healthy diet.” In Manitoba, the committee says, 47 per cent of all food bank clients are children.

The Burntwood Food Security Committee has a number of partners, Solomon says, including the BRHA, Food Matters Manitoba, University of Manitoba’s Faculty of Social Work Northern Bachelor of Social Work Program, Thompson branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), the Thompson Zoo and Manitoba Aboriginal and Northern Affairs Department’s Northern Healthy Foods Initiative, which was expanded in March 2010 into 17 more Northern communities, including Fox Lake, Split Lake, Lac Brochet, York Factory First Nation, Cross Lake community, Cross Lake First Nation, Grand Rapids community, Town of Grand Rapids, Pine Creek First Nation, Rockridge, Norway House First Nation, Meadow Portage, Spence Lake, Princess Harbour, God’s Lake First Nation, God’s Lake Narrows and Chemawawin Cree Nation.

While food supply and where it comes from are important, Solomon says, it isn’t realistic at this point in Northern Manitoba to talk about eating all locally grown produce, although hunting all local meat is more feasible. There have been and continues to be a number of efforts through organizations such as the Bayline Regional Round Table, Northern Association of Community Councils and Food Matters Manitoba, she noted, to grow local produce in Northern Manitoba, with particular success in Wabowden.

Also, in May, Thompson area farmer Barry Little, along with Shawna Henderson, Bill Beardy and Donna Lundie, and residents of Fox Lake Cree Nation, built a hoop-style greenhouse, used to grow tomatoes and cucumbers for local residents on the reserve out of recycled trampoline frames. Also providing support was Raquel Koenig, Northern liaison of Food Matters Manitoba, a registered charity, which works to support local, affordable, nutritious food to Northern Manitobans in partnership with the province’s Northern Healthy Foods Initiative.

For a 100-day period from Sept. 1 until Dec. 9, 2007, 100 Mile Manitoba ran an “experiment in local eating … 100 people, 100 days, 100 hundred miles,” which attempted to get 100 Manitobans to eat food produced and processed within 100 miles of their kitchen table for the 100-day period.

The goal of the initiative was to encourage the move toward a food system that is safer, less energy intensive and more viable for small farmers. It was started by an ad hoc group and attracted 85 participants, 12 of them in rural Manitoba, said Jennifer deGroot, a 100 Mile Manitoba organizer and part-time vegetable farmer on the outskirts of Winnipeg.

The typical food item on a Manitoba table travels an estimated 2,200 kilometres before landing on the plate, deGroot said at the time.

"People want food with a story," said George Matheson, who, along with his wife Shelly and their four kids, raises pasture chickens, hogs and a few hives of honeybees south of Stonewall. He says more and more people want the first-hand assurance that their food is produced in ways that are healthy, safe and environmentally responsible.

Much of the food on store shelves is energy intensive, requiring large quantities of fossil fuels for processing and transport, deGroot said.

While obvious long distance items like coffee, chocolate and bananas, were out of the diet, other items like salt, spices and yeast also posed a challenge.

For three years, the provincial Golden Carrot Awards, sponsored by Food Matters Manitoba as part of the Northern Harvest Forum between 2007 and 2009, were held in Thompson before shifting south to Winnipeg last year and again this year. The 2011 Golden Carrot Awards took place at the Manitoba legislature in the Rotunda Oct. 14.

The theme of the 2009 Northern Harvest Forum, co-ordinated by Food Matters Manitoba, which took place in Thompson in on Oct. 22 and 23, 2009, was “Northern Food from Northern Hands.” The forum included the Golden Carrot Awards.

The two-day annual event, which had taken place in Thompson since 2007, featured workshops that focused on hunting and gathering traditional foods; food preservation; gardening; grocery store and healthy cooking demonstrations.

Also, a World Food Day dinner took place at the Royal Canadian Legion Branch 244’s Centennial Hall. Before moving to the Legion in 2008, the inaugural event in 2007 was held at St. Joseph’s Ukrainian Catholic Hall on Juniper Drive.

This year’s two-day Northern Harvest Forum and World Food Day banquet, attended by Stan Struthers, Manitoba minister of agriculture, food and rural initiatives, was held Oct. 19-20 in The Pas.

In October 2007, the City of Thompson became the first municipality in the province to sign the Manitoba Food Charter during the two-day Northern Harvest Forum here.

Among the steps the city committed to four years ago by signing the charter was to play “a more active role as the regional hub in promoting lower food prices in outlying communities” and Nunavut; and becoming a “staging centre for food distribution” through Canada Post’s Food Mail Program; and “lobby for the regulation of milk prices throughout Manitoba.”

The seeds for the Manitoba Food Charter were planted in 1992 with a document known as “An Action Plan For Food Security For Manitobans” created by the Nutrition and Food Security Network of Manitoba.

A decade later, in 2001 and 2002, a coalition known as FoodSecure Manitoba brought Rod MacRae, food policy analyst and former co-ordinator of the Toronto Food Policy Council, to Winnipeg in April 2002 for a “strategic visioning session.” Areas for concrete action were developed and the group made its first priority to be a “food security” two-day conference in 2003.

The Manitoba Food Charter project built on energy created a year later with the National Food Security Assembly in Winnipeg. During March and February 2006 a steering committee of volunteers crisscrossed the province listening to more than 70 groups of people and food security participants involved in various aspects of the Manitoba food system.

Seventeen per cent of the input came from Northern Manitoba and on May 10, 2006, more than 80 individuals from across Manitoba gathered in Winnipeg to engage in a provincial conversation on food. Community gardeners, academics, farmers, politicians, local food retailers, government folks, food activists, community health workers, neighbourhood residents, university students, and educators gathered to set priorities for future action for the Manitoba Food Charter project.

Funding for the Manitoba Food Charter project comes from the Public Health Agency of Canada; the Rural Secretariat of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada; and Heifer International of Little Rock, Ark., a non-profit organization whose goal is to help end world hunger and poverty through self-reliance and sustainability. An American Midwestern farmer named Dan West, who was a Church of the Brethren relief worker during the Spanish Civil War, started Heifer in 1944.

In its own words, the “Manitoba Food Charter emerged from Manitobans’ common vision for a just and sustainable food system.

The charter provides a vision and a set of principles that will guide and inform strategic planning, policy and program development and practice in mutual effort toward food security and community development.”

The charter analyzes the current food situation in the province this way in part: “Manitoba’s food system has both strengths and weaknesses. We have a significant and diverse agricultural sector and many Manitobans can access the food that they want. However, agricultural communities are challenged by an increasingly urban and globalized economy. Many Northern, inner city, and low-income citizens have difficulty accessing quality food and realizing their fundamental human right to adequate food. Rural, urban and Northern communities are disconnected. Not all of our food is necessarily nutritious, not all information about our food is complete or accurate; and much of our food comes long distances.”

The “vision” the charter notes for “a just and sustainable food system in Manitoba is rooted in healthy communities, ensures no one is hungry and that everyone has access to quality food.”

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