I have the privilege of volunteering at the Hem’?aelas Community Kitchen every week. A dedicated group of individuals and local businesses generously contribute their time, their passion and financially to serve nutritious, appetizing and home-made meals to folks in our City who face food insecurity for many reasons. We see pensioners, persons with disabilities, people without shelter and workers whose cost of living have far surpassed their incomes – especially in the last five years. In a world where 30 to 40 percent of the food grown is thrown away – from the production end to our plates – it feels criminal that our neighbours and friends (or anyone) goes hungry, even for a day.
When I was the Executive Director of A Loving Spoonful in Vancouver (a nutritional therapy program delivering meals to persons living with HIV/AIDS), I learned from experts in the field that meeting our basic need for food is only the beginning of the work of food security. Filling bellies feels good, but it is only a small part of people’s health and wellness. The meals must be balanced, the food must be nutritious and when people eat together, our bodies avail themselves of up to 50% more of the nutritional value in that food. The social aspect of food and meals cannot be overlooked.
There are many ways we can address food insecurity in our City, region and everywhere. I was a founding member of the Food Policy Council in Vancouver and worked with enthusiastic people from every part of the food continuum – growers (big and small), processers, retailers & restaurants, emergency food services, school boards, health through to waste management. I learned we produce enough food in the world to feed everyone well, but the global trade system is designed for shareholder profit, not for equitable access. Re-localizing our food economies is one thing municipalities can do to re-shape the system to serve people and health. Local and seasonal food is also more nutritionally dense than what has been shipped thousands of kilometers. We can incentivize and facilitate more smaller, diverse growers that care about healthy soil in distributed community, private and city plots; we can support storage and distribution options for excess product that might otherwise be thrown away; we can encourage and advocate for opportunities to educate people to process and preserve; and we can ensure there are facilities for those activities. Community hubs are critical to ensuring equal opportunity to participate for those that can and want to.
I have played several roles in food security. I was a board member of the international agency ANSA (AIDS Nutrition Services Alliance), I was first the Program Director and then Executive Director of A Loving Spoonful as mentioned above and sat on the Emergency Food Providers Coalition and Vancouver Food Policy Council. I have worked on a farm and grown my own gardens, learned from and worked with the Comox Valley Growers and Seed Savers, developed and prepared meals both as a volunteer and as a paid cook for Friends for Life Society, AIDS Vancouver, Centre of Hope and for fundraising and special events. And I have taken the Welfare Challenge – eating on $21/week which is the estimate of what those on income assistance have to spend on food five years ago, so it’s more like $0 these days, FMI: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2QYPgvCjYI. By day three, my emotional and mental well being was suffering. I couldn’t think coherently, I was tired and numb and by day seven, I was listless, unmotivated and easily angered or crying. Combine those symptoms with similar ones that result from the poor sleep many un- or under-housed people face, and we might have more understanding and empathy for some of the behaviors we see; for the inability to prepare for a job search or get involved in community. Yet many of them do all of those things despite the challenges. When we feed the body, we nourish the soul and when people are fully nourished, they can do amazing things.
Please consider getting involved at some point on the food continuum – maybe you already are. Grow something for yourself or others, look for ways to reduce your own, and your business’s food waste (and if you do have some – compost); visit local farmers and farmers markets to shop; join a CSA (community supported agriculture) or Greenways Trust Good Food Box, make a donation of food, talent or time to a local agency addressing insecurity and connect with each other, with services and with Mayor and Council to be part of the solutions.