“Food is a profoundly social urge. Food is almost always shared; people eat together; mealtimes are events when the whole family or settlement or village comes together. Food is also an occasion for sharing, for distributing and giving, for the expression of altruism, whether from parents to children, children to in-laws, or anyone to visitors and strangers. Food is the most important thing a mother gives a child; it is the substance of her own body, and in most parts of the world mother’s milk is still the only safe food for infants. Thus food becomes not just a symbol of, but the reality of, love and security.” ~ Robin Fox from Food and Eating: An Anthropological Perspective
Why write about food security (having access to enough and good quality food) at this time of year? As many people set about creating goals, vision boards or targets for the up coming year, it is my hope that in addition to focusing on the refinement and re-genesis of ‘me’, we also include ‘me’ as part of a larger community and incorporate goals that support and enhance that community.
One of my goals for 2017 is to grow and/or glean enough fresh fruits and vegetables to provide for my family and for those in our community who do not have regular access to fresh produce.
Why would people living in countries where food is ‘cheap’, available in mass quantities, and sold in convenient supermarkets, super-centers or wholesale club stores, often disposed of before expiring, want to grow their own food or glean food from a neighbor’s yard?
The reasons are varied: food contamination (pesticides/herbicides), food modification, food insecurity, increasing prices of produce that is shipped into local stores due to drought conditions in food producing regions such as California, and the increasing cost of shipping. Carolyn Herriot, author and local farmer in Central Vancouver Island, defined food security as ‘making sure your neighbour is fed’. Her words resonate deeply with me.
Food security and safety elicit a particularly strong reaction in me. I grew up in eastern Europe in the 1980’s. My grandparents and parents grew their own food due to food shortages. We often reminisce (still 30 years later) about ‘standing in line for toilet paper’. The reality was, people in communist countries ‘stood in line’ for everything.
We immigrated to Canada in late 1986. In those early days, we used the food bank several times when income was tight. We picked up day old food at a local grocery store every Saturday on behalf of a local church. The food was distributed to those in need and we were lucky to get a share.
Although it has been many years since I’ve had to visit a food bank, I am compelled to contribute in some way and to pay-it-forward.
According to Canada Without Poverty:
- 1 in 7 people in Canada are currently living in poverty.
- These people are our neighbors, persons with disabilities, single parents, Aboriginal persons, the elderly and racialized communities.
- 540,000 children across Canada live in conditions of poverty.
- 20.4% of children in British Columbia live in poverty.
- 1 in 8 Canadian households struggle to put food on the table (2.4 million households and almost 1 million children).
The United Nations Economic and Social Council noted the following in Article 11 (May 1999) on the Right to Adequate food:
“The Committee observes that while the problems of hunger and malnutrition are often particularly acute in developing countries, malnutrition, under-nutrition and other problems which relate to the right to adequate food and the right to freedom from hunger also exist in some of the most economically developed countries. Fundamentally, the roots of the problem of hunger and malnutrition are not lack of food but lack of access to available food…”(1)
Could food insecurity and limited access to high nutritional quality foods be alleviated (at least in part) by growing and/or gleaning fruits and vegetables instead of green lawns and colorful flower beds?
Would growing your own – on a balcony in a bag of dirt or in a raised garden bed – provide a passive example to neighbors and strangers alike of how easy it can be? Check out this 4 minute video and get inspired.
Make some of your New Year’s goals about how you can be a part of the food security solution in your community. Here are some resources to get you started:
- Start your own Food Is Free Project: (a) Collective Evolution: How to start a food is free project & (b) Food Is Free: How to Start a Food is Free Project Guide
- A Farm in a Shipping Container: Wouldn’t it be amazing if whole neighborhoods and/or school districts got together (and perhaps acquired government funding) to purchase Green Leafy Machines to grow their own food with a low carbon footprint all year round? Since publishing my article about Tamara Knott’s Shipping Container Farm, I have had many inquiries about it. It is inspiring to see how many people are re-thinking food and consciously choosing to have a direct hand in what they eat and how food is distributed.
- Gleaning: Let’s manage what we grow and be responsible with the food that is already available. Here are some organizations that can pick fruit and distribute it to those in need. Perhaps you can volunteer or start your own such organization in your area.
- Farm to Cafeteria (Canada) – Farm to Cafeteria Canada (F2CC) is a pan-Canadian organization whose vision is “vibrant and sustainable regional food systems that support the health of people place and planet.” F2CC works with partners across Canada to educate, build capacity, strengthen partnerships, and influence policy to bring local, healthy, and sustainable foods into all public institutions.
- Zero Waste Canada – The Fruit Tree Project rescues fruit from backyards. They have volunteer organizations all over Canada, including Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg, Toronto, Hamilton, Montreal as well as in smaller communities.
- Cowichan Valley FruitSave Program (Central Vancouver Island, Canada) – the FruitSave Project is a local gleaning program that organizes volunteers to harvest backyard fruit that would otherwise go to waste. This naturally grown fruit is shared between the homeowner, the pickers, and the Valley’s many emergency food providers.
- FarmFolk CityFolk (all over British Columbia, Canada) – Fruit Tree projects enlist a great group of volunteers who will assist with the picking of fruit in your backyard, fruit tree care, and preserving workshops. Fruit is distributed among homeowners, volunteers, community groups and food banks.
- Gleaning Abundance (Kamloops, BC, Canada) – Home owners with too much fruit on their trees or vegetables in their garden contact us to share their abundance.
- Food Secure Canada – check out their Relocalization Network Project proposal so you can start your own
- Village Harvest (US) – This website provides a list (in progress) of groups which glean, harvest, collect, rescue, or recover fruit or produce for charitable purposes in the US.
- FeedBack (UK & Europe) – The Gleaning Network coordinates volunteers, farmers and food redistribution charities to salvage the thousands of tonnes of fresh fruit and vegetables that are wasted on farms every year across the UK and Europe, and direct this fresh, nutritious food to people in need.
(1) Substantive issues arising in the implantation of the international covenant on economic, social and cultural rights committed on economic, social and cultural rights; Twentieth session Geneva, 26 April-14 May 1999, Agenda item 7 pp. 2-3)