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Stop! Food Insecurity and Social Injustice

Publié le 1 avril, 2008 | Pas de commentaires
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The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto is a unique service that approaches the issue of food security by integrating nutrition, the environment, and social justice. The Stop illustrates the integrated approach necessary for dealing with the problems of rising fuel costs, the loss of agricultural land to biofuel production and social inequity.

Food
Jeffrey, Food, 2005
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The price of wheat has reached record highs, reflecting a growing trend of drastic increases in basic grain costs over the past year. This condition has aggravated an already global problem of food insecurity and hunger. The price increases are related to drought, increased demand, and the added pressure of biofuel as it pushes the markets to think of food as fuel1. Although multi-faceted and global, food insecurity is being addressed in unique and revealing ways at a local level. The Stop Community Food Centre in Toronto, Ontario, is one organization that innovatively addresses these very issues.

Food Security and Hunger

Food insecurity has always been an issue for humanity, but is currently being exacerbated by both the negative effects of climate change and the production of biofuels. Food security, the ability of all people at all times to access nutritional food, inherently means an avoidance of malnutrition and hunger. However, Josette Sherran, director of the World Food Program reports that the rates of hunger world-wide are increasing: “There are 854 million hungry people in the world and 4 million more join their ranks every year. We are facing the tightest food supplies in recent history. For the world’s most vulnerable, food is simply being priced out of their reach.2” Although one may be tempted to think of this as a problem only affecting the so-called ‘developing’ world, hunger is affecting industrialized nations as well3. The drastic increases in grain prices are a result of extreme weather due to climate change, increased demand (for both meat production and human consumption), and the growth of biofuel production 5. The price of wheat in North America has doubled since 2006, in early March trading at $25 a bushel (historically wheat trades for between $3-7 a bushel)4. There have been similar price increases in maize and rice, with the US dedicating 20% of its traditional agriculture crops to ethanol production6. These price increases have made it such that more and more people are living in situations of food insecurity. Toronto alone has seen an 80% increase in reliance upon food banks since 19957.

Local Initiatives: The Stop Community Food Centre

The Stop Community Food Centre started in the early 1970s as a kind of progressive food bank that acknowledged that healthy communities require more than the simple distribution of food. Its participants, now drawn from the Davenport-Perth neighbourhood in Toronto, are made up of large groups of the under-employed, new immigrants, and other marginalized people. Systemic barriers often force diverse households to rely upon food banks for their nourishment.

What makes The Stop different, however, is the recognition that people can become empowered through their relationships to food distribution and production. Their philosophy raises questions regarding the traditional food bank model and larger issues of food security in general. For example, in 1998, The Stop developed an urban agriculture program, using an 8,000 square-foot plot of land (including a greenhouse) to produce organic food. This urban agriculture was run and managed entirely by Stop volunteers, many of whom also rely upon the food bank for their own sustenance. The plants are grown collectively, without the differentiation of personal allotments. A strong collective engagement to the food is further fostered through a dining program that allows participants to learn and enjoy cooking and food preparation. Importantly, it also fosters the relations between people, with a drop-in program that provides culturally appropriate meals in a communal gathering space. This centre addresses concerns of social justice directly by providing necessary referral and counseling services, but also fosters community through all the stages of production and consumption of food – from sowing seeds to setting the table. The Stop fosters relationships between participants and food, whilst warding off the devastating effects of hunger.

Food banks were originally put in place as a temporary solution in Canada in 19838, but they have become a necessary source of food for thousands. One of the problems with the conventional food bank system is that it benefits large-scale food manufacturers – without regard for the health of food bank users. Food banks provide a place for these companies to ‘dump’ their food without having to pay “tippage fees associated with disposing of their products at landfill sites. Large supermarkets often make money through tax deductions and benefit from free public relations and advertising.9” This model helps to sustain industrial agricultural practices that contribute to the vulnerability of food crops. Furthermore, these products of industrial agribusiness, or “food-like substances,” as Michael Pollan has dubbed them10, are usually packaged and processed, resulting in a lack of fresh vegetables, meat, and dairy products for those who depend upon food banks. This imposed diet can negatively affect the health of those who are already in a position of health risks. The offer of sustainable, locally produced, organic food, which the participants produce and cook themselves in a communal setting, is a model that is radically different from conventional food banks. The production of food on the scale of an organization like The Stop can only sustain a limited population, but it does open up alternatives to industrial agriculture and conventional food banks.

The Stop’s social justice philosophy understands the relationship between food security and environmental practices, implicitly acknowledging the ways in which food has always exceeded mere nutrition. Food is vital to our sense of physical well being, but its production, preparation and consumption is integral to a sense of belonging and community with others. Further, the maintenance and participation in gardening and cooking means that the relationship to food that is developed for the participants is one that may help to develop a sense that they matter, that their help is required for the maintenance of the garden and each other, and that they are fulfilling a necessary social role. Self-worth is extremely important to people who have been systematically marginalized. By growing their own food and preparing it themselves, the food bank becomes a “community food centre” and no longer a place of shame. As the philosophy of the organization states: “The Stop strives to meet basic food needs and, at the same time, foster opportunities for community members to build mutual support networks, connect to community resources and find their voices on the issues that matter most to them.11

It is this recognition and enactment of the interconnection of food, environment and social justice that make The Stop a model to be adopted elsewhere. It provides a necessary example to see the problems of hunger and food security as ones that can be addressed through increased connection to each other and our environment. Indeed, through its innovative community-based example, the Stop presents a fully developed reconfiguration of the deeply complex relationship that we have with food everyday–from growing (or buying) to cooking and eating with others.

References

1. Naylor, Rosamond, Adam Liska, et al. “The Ripple Effect: Biofuels, Food Security, and the Environment” Environment 49.9 (2007)
2. Quoted in: Vidal, John. “Climate Change and Shortages of Fuel Signal Global Food Crisis.” The Guardian Weekly Nov. 9, 2007.
3. Hall, Brian. “Hunger and food insecurity increase for 5th straight year” Centre on Hunger and Poverty Bulletin, October 2005.
4. Associated Press. Globe and Mail (March 1, 2008)
5. Borger, Julian. ‘UN Declares it Cannot Afford to Feed the World” The Guardian Weekly (Feb. 29-March 6 2008)
6. Boddiger, David. “Boosting Biofuel Crops Could Threaten Food Security” Lancet, 370.9591 15 Aug. 2007:923-924
7. Daily Bread Food Bank. “About Hunger and Food Banks” <http://www.dailybread.ca/get_informed/teaching-resources.cfm> (accessed March 6, 2008)
8. Ibid.
9. Levkoe, Charles. “Widening the Approach to Food Insecurity: The Stop Community Food Centre” Canadian Review of Social Policy 52 (Feb. 2004).
10. Pollan, Michael. In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto. New York: Penguin Press, 2008.
11. <www.thestop.org/mission.php> (accessed March 2, 2008)

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