World Food Day. Why it matters and what it has to do with local and just food systems
October 16 is a big deal in foodie and food justice circles, and has been since its inception over 25 years ago in Italy. It is World Food Day, an event that celebrates the importance of food and that highlights the need to address the life threatening hunger and poverty that confronts almost a billion people around the world. This year’s theme is “addressing food security in times of crisis”. Events surrounding World Food Day typically include notable sports matches, concerts, rallies, workshops, and celebrations of food culture around the world. Closer to home in Manitoba, Food Matters Manitoba will be hosting the Golden Carrot Awards at the provincial legislative building, where community groups that have championed food-related poverty will be recognized.
And later that night there will be a fast for change facilitated by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank. That afternoon, we will be holding our “Feast for the Rest of Us”, which celebrates wholesome and affordable foods, a wide diversity of food cultures, and or course food justice. More about that below.
Although many of us are used to seeing (and skimming by) images of starving children on late night television, we tend to associate them with the so-called Third World – countries like Bangladesh, Rwanda, or Darfur further challenged by natural disasters, war, and disease. Without diminishing the unimaginable horrors that confront people in those countries, it is important to recognize that we too have soul-sucking poverty and food insecurity in Canada, and, yes, especially in Manitoba.
So for me World Food Day is about highlighting and acting upon poverty in our own backyard and linking these issues to similar conditions elsewhere in the world.
For example, did you know that:
- Manitoba has among the highest poverty rates in Canada.
- We have the highest poverty rates for lone-parent families
- 43% of Aboriginal youth and 51% of Aboriginal children live in poverty (almost 3X the rates of non-Aboriginal youth and children in Manitoba)
- 44% of people living on reserves collected “employment” insurance or welfare, almost 10X the rates for Manitobans as a whole
- Just over half (51%) of newcomers (immigrants and refugees) in Manitoba live in poverty
- The greatest gaps in poverty between rural and urban regions in Canada occur in Manitoba
So what’s the connect between poverty and food?
Well poverty undoubtedly undermines the ability of people to access good tasting, safe and nutritious, and culturally appropriate food. This condition is often referred to as food insecurity. And, like poverty, food insecurity is again very high for Manitoba.Some more stats (please bear with me):
- Manitoba has the second highest (after Newfoundland) use of food banks in our country
- Food insecurity is especially high for the poorest 20% of Manitobans (55% of these), for those collecting social assistance (62% of these) and for Aboriginal people living off reserve (33% of these)
- Very little is known about food insecurity for those living on-reserve, for recent immigrants and refugees, and (yes the irony is great here) for rural populations who are in the business of producing food
But why would be celebrating this global food crisis, and what is this “Feast for the Rest of Us” event that we have planned for October 16?
A bunch of us food and community advocates (including members of Food Matters Manitoba, Four Arrows Regional Health Authority, Harvest Moon Society, Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization of Manitoba, Northern Association of Community Councils, Sakgeeng First Nation, and University of Manitoba) have been meeting every couple of weeks over the last 18 months to develop a new research and education alliance that promotes local food and food justice (the Manitoba Alternative Food Research Alliance or MAFRA – see www.localANDjust.ca). High on our list of to-dos was an event that would enable concerned organizations and folk to discuss these issues and to celebrate food and food cultures. What better day than World Food Day?!?
Most World Food Day celebrations seem to focus on celebrity galas and other high visibility events. Likewise most Manitobans with adequate and stable household incomes will be eating well (often too well) on this occasion. But what about the rest, especially those busy coping with the life stats I cited above?
So emerged our “Feast for the Rest of Us”, one that you are welcome to attend regardless of your life circumstances. Our meal is being held in the inner city Spence Neighbourhood <http://spenceneighbourhood.org/> at the St Matthew’s Anglican Church. and will commence with a no-cost “community lunch” featuring Sudanese food from Nyam Nyam Catering; bison, bannock, and wild rice from the Chocolate Shop, meat from the Harvest Moon Local Food Initiative, and a vegan stew, refreshments, and snacks from Mondragon. These eats will be followed by workshops on edible native plants, tapping maple syrup in the inner city, over-winter storage of vegetables, and exploring sauerkraut recipes. There will also be group discussions of regional food and food justice in Manitoba, as well as roots music from the Crooked Brothers, a dozen community tables and fair trade products, and, of course, oodles of meets-n-greets.
So, YES, World Food Day seems like a ideal opportunity to highlight the importance of MAFRA and to explore the role of local and international food systems in helping address poverty and food insecurity. Our abilities as food providers and eaters to control our food systems, whether in Manitoba or around the world, and to assert our values as they affect our lives, those of our communities and beyond, are important first steps in addressing poverty and hunger. MAFRA will play a long-term role in facilitating research and education around these issues and will have a long-lasting and positive effect on foodscapes across the northern, rural, and urban regions of our province. And MAFRA will continue to highlight and celebrate food justice every year on World Food Day hereafter.
We’d be honoured if you join us…
for good eats, good times, and good discussions.