Sunday, October 14, 2012

World Food Day - Rich foods and fine wines a dream for many

A Festive Table
Photo: Louise McEwan
I think about food quite a lot. Food has always been a big part of my life, and many of my fondest memories are inseparable from large family gatherings around the table. We marked every holiday and significant event in life with some type of celebration that involved generous amounts of delicious foods.  Growing up, I never wondered at the cost of food, or questioned the ability of my parents to provide a plentiful board. Three squares a day, and then some, were a given. Today, I continue the tradition of celebrating in style with specially prepared foods and fine wines.  

Monday morning, as I ran off the extra calories from the Thanksgiving feast, I muttered a quick prayer of gratitude for the abundance that daily graces our table.  Like the majority of Canadians, we always have food on our table, more in the pantry, and the means to purchase it. Even as my own family enjoys abundance, we are conscious that many people in our communities, across the country, and around the world are unable to meet their basic food needs. 

Canada - a land of plenty but... 
Canadians are among the world’s most well fed people. In fact, we are so well fed that we waste a staggering $27 billion of food annually. This includes things like leftovers growing mold at the back of our fridges, bulk foods that we toss, and waste from restaurant and supermarkets. With the harvest behind us, I wonder how many tons of vegetables and fruit from backyard gardens and orchards went to waste.

Despite this plenty, an estimated 900,000 Canadians are hungry.  In May of this year, the plight of hungry Canadians made international headlines when Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations special rapporteur on the right to food, criticized Canada for its lack of a national food security strategy. While the Canadian government refuted De Schutter, proclaiming that federal and provincial governments are improving the lives of Canadians, it seems clear to me that our nation has a problem with hunger.

I doubt that very few communities in the country do not have at least one food bank. My small town has three, and demand for food is increasing.  Local food bank volunteers are noticing that more families with children are requesting food. While some of their clients are employed, mostly at entry-level or minimum wage jobs, earnings are not keeping pace with the rising cost of food; by month’s end, these people need help to put food on the table.

The 2011 report from Food Banks Canada, entitled "Hunger Count", confirms these anecdotal observations of local volunteers in my community. Across the country, Canadian food banks collectively reported 93,000 first time users each month. Thirty-eight percent of people using food banks are children and youth under age 18. Eighteen percent of people accessing food banks have some form of employment income.

Organizations like Food Banks Canada can help us understand the various causes of hunger. Two causes of hunger are low income and a lack of affordable housing. De Schutter was unequivocal in his criticism of Canada’s failure to address these problems; Canada is a wealthy country that has failed to “adapt the levels of social assistance benefits and its minimum wage to the rising costs of basic necessities, including food and housing.”

Millions can only dream of rich foods and fine wines
A feast of rich foods and fine wines is the stuff of dreams for many Canadians, and for growing numbers of individuals worldwide. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that there are almost 900 million undernourished people and 2 billion malnourished people worldwide.

In 1997, world leaders at the World Food Summit pledged their collective political will and commitment to achieving global food security.  They set a goal to eradicate hunger, and to cut the number of undernourished individuals in half by 2015.  At that time, 800 million people were undernourished.  Fifteen years later, based solely on the number of hungry people in the world, the global community is no closer to achieving food security.

The FAO has designated October 16 World Food Day. It is a day to remind us that food is a basic human right, not a luxury for those with good jobs living in nice houses. It is a day to consider our habits of consumption, and the effects of our consumption on countries in the global south. It is time to open our eyes to the hungry in our communities, and to make our own pledge to alleviate hunger through a combination of charitable giving and social action.

(Note to readers: My blog is staying put for the time being. I have some technical details to sort out before completing a move to )

No comments: