Food Matters – Obesity, Poverty, Waste

Recent CBC News story

Recent CBC News story

News reports of late have warned us to expect the cost of our fresh produce to rise because of drought conditions in California. Welfare advocates warn that benefits recipients simply don’t have enough money to buy healthy food. And at the same time the amount of food we waste around the world is at an all time high. I touched on all of these topics this week on Food Matters.

These are all definitely matters of concern, but when you put them together it starts to sound like the perfect storm… I can’t have a full discussion of prices, poverty and waste in one blog post. But I do like to get you to at least start thinking about these issues and provide a few directions for further study if you’re interested.

It’s not the first time we’ve heard of drought in California having an effect on our fresh fruit and produce prices, but part of what’s different this time around is the length of the drought, and the fact that the growers haven’t been able to easily bounce back from one dry season. It’s been basically 30 months of drought now, and prices just have nowhere to go but up given the old supply and demand scenario. What I find the most disturbing part of this, though, was contained in a report released earlier this month that was commissioned by VanCity. The data from 2010 showed we rely on the United States for 67 percent of our fresh produce imported to BC, and half of that is from California. At the same time, vegetable crop production in BC has fallen by 20 percent between 1991 and 2011, and just between July 2013 and July of this year, have gone up between 6 and 10 percent. I really don’t know why production of our own fruits and vegetables hasn’t gone up instead of down. I know you can look at certain sectors, probably grapes, blueberries, cherries and cranberries, where there is a bit of a boom going on, but these are wine grapes and a lot of the other fruits get exported.

Bif Naked's $21 Welfare Challenge shopping

Bif Naked’s $21 Welfare Challenge shopping

You would think the answer to combat rising prices of imported goods would be to grow more of them here, right? I guess that’s the simple answer, but I’m not an economist. But I also think there’s something wrong when our governments spend money promoting exports of our products when we can’t even feed ourselves. While our food prices continue to rise, people who are living at or below the poverty line will find it increasingly difficult to put healthy food on the table. We all know it’s cheaper to buy 2 litres of soda than it is to buy 2 litres of milk. Junk food costs less to buy than healthy food…and junk food generally has high levels of fat, sugar and salt, which plays right into rising rates of obesity, heart disease and type two diabetes. Vancouver-based singer Bif Naked has been drawing a lot of attention this week while she is taking the Welfare Challenge this week, trying to live on just 21 dollars to spend on food. Her Facebook page is loaded with literally hundreds of comments, some negative, mostly positive on her effort to get governments to raise welfare rates.

Here’s what she bought, and keep in mind she sticks to a vegan diet: brown rice, 2 cans of chickpeas, 2 heads of (non-organic) iceberg lettuce, a pint of cherry tomatoes, six zucchinis, six bananas, and a bag of (non-organic) spinach. In a photo of what she would like to buy, papaya and handfuls of organic spinach, organic cucumber, 4 organic zucchinis, 4 organic bananas, vegan protein powder, hempseeds, pea shoots, almonds, 2 organic Roma tomatoes, and an organic avocado: $45.00.

As I’ve scrolled through the comments, many people have noted that there is a real lack of education on how to shop and cook and feed ourselves in a healthy manner. I’m not very surprised at that given how so much of our industrial food system is targeted at producing convenience foods that basically take all of the knowledge of what goes into making food out of our hands. I think I could be quite creative at stretching a dollar but I have been cooking for decades, learned from a mother who pinched pennies and have a big arsenal of cookbooks to refer to.

Grant Baldwin

Grant Baldwin

The waste of perfectly good food is the last scary issue on my agenda today, and again we’ve talked about this before. Crops that never get harvested because they might be blemished or overripe or just aren’t the right size or colour for demanding shoppers. The number of people that could be fed if we could just get over that demand for perfection is staggering. Please mark Wednesday, November 19th on your calendar if you are anywhere near Victoria, Sidney or Salt Spring Island where the documentary Just Eat It, A Food Waste Story will be playing that evening, complete with discussion afterwards. This documentary was made by a Vancouver couple, Grant Baldwin and Jenny Rustemeyer and created a stir of good reviews at the Vancouver International Film Festival.

Get this: The duo lived on food they mostly retrieved from dumpsters for six months, they spent only 200 dollars on food during that time. The film covers their adventures doing that, but also features interviews with food scientists and activists trying to make a difference. I’m really looking forward to seeing this, as the reviews I read really praise it from a number of angles, including the cinematography that, for example, features Baldwin standing in a huge garbage bin described as ‘swimming pool sized’, filled with sealed plastic packs of hummus that are still one month before their best before date.

Kitchen Ecosystem

Kitchen Ecosystem

If you’re interested in cutting down on your own kitchen waste, you should check out The Kitchen Eco-System blog by Eugenia Bone. She shows you how to use everything, and I mean everything that comes into your kitchen in very inventive ways. You may also want to check out her book, The Kitchen Ecosystem: Integrating Recipes to Create Delicious Meals


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5 Responses to Food Matters – Obesity, Poverty, Waste

  1. Mandy Leith says:

    Thanks for all the work you do Don, and for mentioning OPEN CINEMA! We’d love to invite you to attend our Nov 19 screening as our special guest! Let us know if you are interested and available!

  2. Jay MacArthur says:

    We have been building over farmland in the Fraser Valley for years. The ALR is way too small now. There is too much pressure to develop the ALR which pushes farm prices up.

    Another issue is the growing season in BC is so short that farmers can only produce one or two crops. Cheap oil and better transport have made shipping produce easier, so people are used to seeing strawberries year round. We used to make do without many fruits and vegetables year-round.

  3. Sandra says:

    Amazing article! I am glad to hear that there are people who cares about the environment. I personally have my own garden and I eat vegetables only grown by myself. Of course, not everyone could maintain a garden but after all we can grown our herbs for example. Regards!

  4. I’m trying to buy my veggies and fruits from local gardeners. And my next challenge is composting. Wish me luck with that!

  5. Eve Tompson says:

    Food waste is a major issue. We throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink from our homes every year, the majority of which could have been eaten. It’s costing us £12.5bn a year and is bad for the environment too

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