How Food Secure Are We?

(As featured in The Telegram on Monday, September 12th 2011)

Although there is more than enough food to feed the entire global population, well over 790 million people in the world suffer from constant hunger and malnutrition. With the continuing food insecurity problem in the Horn of Africa, perhaps it might be good to take some time to consider our own provincial food situation. Too often we consider the problems often associated with food excess, namely obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease and we may not consider the problems associated with the lack thereof. The Community Food Sharing Association estimates that, in our province today, there are 32 000 people without enough food to eat.

To understand the full picture, let's familiarize ourselves with the term food security. The Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador tells us when all people at all times have access to enough food which meets our dietary need, is affordable, safe and healthy, culturally acceptable, accessible, and produced in ways that are socially sound and just. If you visited the Refugee Camp in the City hosted by Doctors Without Borders at Bannerman Park over the weekend, you may have just had a glimpse at what a large scale (similar to the current situation in Somalia and surrounding countries) food emergency crisis in Newfoundland could look like.

When you consider the evidence, Newfoundland and Labrador is not overly sustainable on it's own should a food emergency crisis occur. Consider the produce shelves at the grocery store if there has been bad weather and the trucks don't make it in for a day or so. As an island, we are isolated. Don't quote me on this, but I've heard we hold about a two to three day supply of fresh foods. Yes, we do produce some of own foods (about 10%), like milk, eggs and of course some vegetables, but because of our geography and weather, the growing season is relatively short and we can't provide the grocery store assortment of fruits and other fresh produce we have grown accustomed to (the other 90). Not only can food sometimes take a while to get here, but in addition to that it can be expensive. It's quite common knowledge that you can buy two to three two litres of pop for the same price as one two litre carton of milk. Due to some of these factors as well is the fact that our traditional diet, with the exception of berries and fish, are not overly healthy choices, and the fact is many people just simply aren't used to healthy eating. In addition, the fact that young people are not choosing farming as a career choice and the land in some places, specifically in Labrador, not being arable provides more challenges Add some, or all of these factors together and you're got a large entangled net of potential food insecurities.

Food security is a determinant for health. It is a large scale, and complex issue, but there are things individually we can each do. Perhaps there is an opportunity coming up where you can organize a local food drive. Maybe on your next trip to the grocery store, you can purchase that extra can of beans or tomatoes and place them in the donation bin on your way out. To save, you don't have to create stockpiles or go dumpster diving like the Extreme Couponers on tv. There are ways you can save a few dollars for healthy foods. Try collecting coupons, search for and compare sales and buy discounted grocery items. You can also learn more about how to grow, harvest or catch your own food, local community gardens, farms or markets and share this knowledge with the people you care about.