Take a seat at the big table
by David Tracey
• Food is a delight, a wonder, a blessing, a need and a problem as big as the world. One billion people don’t have enough to eat, according to the UN World Food Programme, and hunger kills more people every year than AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis combined. At the same time, another one billion people are eating too much so we now have a global epidemic in obesity.
You don’t have to look around the globe to find a broken food system. Here at home, 900,000 Canadians must visit food banks every month just to get by. When the United Nations’ leading food expert visited last month to report on how food issues affect people even in a country like Canada, the government response was stunning. Rather than thank Olivier De Schutter for pointing out some major problems and recommending a national right-to-food plan, Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq called him “ill informed and patronizing” because he didn’t know the real food issue in northern Canada was “fighting environmentalists.”
What to do? Plant the seeds of a brighter food future. Here’s the good thing about food politics: just as it affects everyone, everyone has a role in making it better. It takes a big table when you invite people together to talk about food. Farmers, nutritionists, activists, teachers, producers, distributors, recyclers and others are joining together in communities throughout North America to discuss alternatives to the industrial food system.
Their efforts typically target local issues, which is as it should be, but because many of our food system problems are the result of institutional forces making decisions far from our own neighbourhoods, it’s vital that local groups combine their efforts and work together. Here in BC, we have the BC Food Systems Network which holds its 2012 Gathering July 5-8 on Gambier Island (open to all). The BCFSN is a province-wide grassroots organization bringing people from diverse areas and backgrounds together to share knowledge, strategies, success stories and, of course, food.
The Gathering, held every year since 1999, is like a family reunion that turns up relatives you never knew you had. Even those immersed in the struggle for food democracy can be surprised and energized to see the depth and breadth of work going on throughout the province.
Because the network operates on the principle that we – meaning all of us – are the experts, the Gathering is not a convention of celebrity speakers and corporate sponsors. Instead, members share what they’re doing and what they’ve learned. This could be through seed-saving workshops, discussions on creating community gardens and round-table talks on best strategies for non-profit groups to attract donors.
With a federal government showing all the smarts of a schoolyard bully and growing pressures from the food industry – did you hear about the application to sell a GMO apple or the BC government’s move to make it illegal to even talk about reportable diseases in animals destined for human consumption? – the theme for this year’s Gathering couldn’t be more timely: “Reclaiming Our Food System: Policy and Practice.” For more information on the Gathering, visit the BCFSN website at fooddemocracy.org.
David Tracey is the author of several books including Urban Agriculture: Ideas and Designs for the New Food Revolution. He is on the board of the BC Food Systems Network.