As the cost of food continues to rise, many urbanites are finding it increasingly difficult to access and afford nutritious food, said four panelists debating local food insecurity Feb. 2.
Moderator Rotem Ayalon, a project director for the Corporation of Community Economic Development, opened the debate by quoting from, In Defense of Food: “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
“But how,” asked Ayalon, “can you follow the rules of thumb if you can’t afford the fruits and vegetables at your local grocery store?” Each panelist at the bilingual panel, organized by students of Concordia’s School of Public Affairs, had a chance to discuss ways to alleviate local food insecurity 8212; the inability to afford healthy groceries without compromising access to necessities such as rent.
FrÃ©dÃ©ric ParÃ© of the Food Sovereignty Coalition said the only way food could be made more accessible, with lower prices, is if markets became state-regulated, and competition was eliminated from food production.
“The social net is fracturing, even as people count on the market forces to regulate human problems,” said ParÃ©. He said he believes accessibility to food should be considered a human right, and defended at international policy and legislative levels.
The effects of the rising cost of food are quite obvious at Canada’s largest food bank, Moisson MontrÃ©al, said community liaison Zakary O. Rhissa. The organization, which helps around 115,000 people access food each month, has seen a 15 per cent increase in the amount of employed people turning to them.
“Sadly, it’s costing more and more to buy food in Montreal,” he said.
But the problem isn’t always related to finances 8212; sometimes food insecurity is a matter of access.
Rhissa said because grocery stores are usually situated in populated urban cores, it means they’re often inaccessible to those using public transit instead of cars, creating “food deserts.”
Some farmers are coming up with ways to help curb the access problem.
The owners of the organic Ferme du Ruisseau have been living off the grid for four years. Michel PÃ©pin and Sabrina Martinez’s 180-acre farm in east Hawkesbury, Ont. uses energy produced by sun and wind; their two greenhouses are heated by a hand-crank generator that runs on used cooking oil from restaurants. Their vegetable farm provides supplies for restaurants and farmer’s markets, and consumers who buy into the Community Supported Agriculture program.
Martinez said consumers can help by eating organically and locally. “If we have support from the community, we can have food security,” she said. “If local farmers work together, and producers own the land, they can bring the total cost of food down.”
Steve Aitchison, owner of Burritoville, a vegan restaurant near Concordia’s downtown campus, started his business to “alleviate some of the insecurities out there.” Since he serves mainly students, he keeps his prices as low as possible, but meets the challenge by getting 95 per cent of his food locally. Aitchison said he thinks local farming is “truly the key” to addressing food insecurity. “It’s understanding the seasons and cycles, and diminishing our desire for foods that aren’t accessible.”
Near the end of the debate, O. Rhissa asked PÃ©pin why it’s cheaper to buy imported food that must be flown in. PÃ©pin replied that local farmers compete with countries that produce a harvest two to three times per year thanks to warmer climates, genetically-modified seeds and heavy fertilizers, while Canada is a cold climate and it costs more to heat and produce the same amount.