Food is cultural, social, economic, political and environmental – it connects us all. That is the message of Meal Exchange, ayouth-driven registered charity that empowers students across Canada to learn and raise awareness about local hunger. I have been involved in Meal Exchange since I went back to university in 2010, and I have learned so much about what food justice means to my local and global community, and to me.
Let’s explore how to feed your mind to make socially conscious food choices.
Appetizer: The facts, served chilled
I once heard Douglas Coutts, special advisor on child hunger to the UN World Food Program, speak. He said that one billion people in the world are hungry, most of them women and children, and – astoundingly – that hunger is not caused by a lack of food but by a mismanagement of resources. Coutts explained that there are complex factors at play, including unequal distribution of wealth, natural disasters, civil conflict and strife, and the newest player, a hunger for fuel. These are all pretty heavy issues.
Anthropologic influences amplify the pain caused by hunger. But it doesn’t have to be this way. If human actions contribute to the hunger, human actions can find a solution.
Main course: Student food advocacy on campus
Over the past year, Meal Exchange has considered and discussed how students can ensure that their campus is food secure. After a year of student consultations, the National Student Food Charter was launched in August, 2012. I was part of the charter drafting committee. We framed our work around the idea that a food-secure campus reflects the principles of food sovereignty by allowing all members of the campus community access to safe, affordable, nutritious food that is produced in a sustainable way.
What can you do to alleviate hunger? A lot, actually:
- Contribute to or run a food drive! Food sovereignty advocates maintain that everyone must have access to safe, nutritious and culturally appropriate food to sustain a dignified, healthy life. Contribute to food drives and see if your local food bank accepts fresh produce, which is usually in short supply but high demand. A lot of people – including you, your friend or co-worker – benefit from food aid. Make efforts to destigmatize food aid and recognize food as a human right.
- Educate yourself! Contributing to food drives is a great start, but hunger is a complicated beast and needs to be conquered from all angles. Explore where your own food comes from thinking about its impact on the environment, society and you. This will help you make food choices that work with nature and with humanity.
- Get out into the community! There are many organizations out and about doing good, and they are always welcoming new members. I’m part of the Meal Exchange chapter at the University of Toronto. We partnered with a local organization called Lead2Peace and an elementary school in Toronto to maintain a school garden to teach students that some food comes from the ground and it needs to be washed and peeled, not just unwrapped! The conversations with community members are definitely one of the fruits of this kind of labour. One grade-six student told me that his plan to survive a zombie apocalypse is to head to the grocery store for food, and we both agreed that learning how to grow food would also be essential for survival. Food really does relate to everything!
- Create change on campus! Think about your school’s food options. If you’d like healthier, socially conscious options on campus, consider joining your student union and making your voice heard! See if you can start a farmers’ market on campus so that students can connect with farmers and access fresh, locally produced foods.
- Celebrate food! Canada is a beautiful, diverse country with amazing opportunities to have a family style potluck. Encourage your friends to bring local or organic whole foods, share cultural dishes and get ready for a feast!
Dessert: A delicious slice of humble pie
The less money a person earns, the greater their spending on food. The world’s ultra poor spends about 70 per cent of their money on food. By comparison, I spend only 16 per cent of my monthly income on food. It’s important to maintain perspective and not take food for granted. Being thankful for what you’ve got can often be a source of inspiration to keep fighting and break the hunger cycle.
The Food & Culture Blog currently features monthly articles about food justice from Jo Anne Tacorda. Her posts will normally appear on the second Monday of each month.
If you're interested in adding your voice to this blog, please send a short proposal and writing sample to blogs [at] alternativesjournal.ca
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