The face of poverty is changing and the number of mouths to feed is growing. The Free Press will be examining this topic in the coming weeks from the perspective of the users, providers and observers. Is our present system of providing food for our most vulnerable population in Prince George working? If not, what can we do to improve it?
Not all homeless people go hungry and not all hungry people are homeless.
Some local groups such as Community Partners Addressing Homelessness (CPAH) and student events like Homelessless Action Week at UNBC show that people without means – or meals – in Prince George are not forgotten.
Breakfast for Learning launched a social media campaign in March to focus on child hunger and numbers that suggest one in six Canadian children face hunger.
Locally, they support school nutrition programs in two Prince George schools.
Individuals in our community also make it their life’s work to bring their own knowledge about food and nutrition “to the table.”
That is how artist, activist, environmentalist and farmer Jovanka Djordjevich spends much of her time.
Rich or poor, when it comes to putting food on the table or serving lunch at a shelter, our healthy choices are important, she says.
It is about quality, not quantity.
This is especially true for consumers on low or fixed budgets, she says. As an advocate for healthy eating and volunteer with Prince George’s Good Food Box, a program that provides fresh produce from local farmers, Djordjevich says education is key.
That’s why she’s involved in community events which have food knowledge components: Community Garden planting and harvests, local Chef’s Challenge (using local meats and fresh produce), Wine Festival and Farmers’ Market.
Healthy eating is a universal issue, not just a local one, she says.
“It is the people who can afford good food and who make the decisions that direct the world and they are being poor role models and ‘cheaping out’ on food, that is leading to the collapse of our whole food system.”
Djordjevich said that she asked some northern medical students a few years ago during a talk about local food opportunities, “are farmers partners in health?” She was astonished, she said, that the majority of them “had no idea that our food system is the foundation of a healthy body, or that our poor food system is a determinant of poor health.”
None of them thought of farmers as partners in health, she said. That is just one of the problems.
“A doctor should send a sick person to their local farmer, not the drug store. Our food system is crumbling because farmers’ kids see the poor wages that farmers make – probably a tenth of that of a doctor. Yet we can’t exist for long without food.”
Some high-profile events miss the mark when it comes to eating healthy, she said.
“Fundraising for health care often includes drive-thru breakfasts and hot dogs and movie days on spring afternoons when people should be out getting their Vitamin D from the sun instead of a bottle, this role modeling says it is OK to do this. When health regulations say that the wiener is a low-risk item to serve but whoa, hold the salad or the fresh baked muffin because these are riskier foods, these encourage and facilitate poor eating habits. When food safety regulations make the potluck a high-risk activity but buying something baked in the east with tons of chemicals and preservatives, transported for days and sold at a high cost in the big box store are the permissible option, our food system is crumbling because of regulation rather than education.”
There are so many reasons why there is less good food in our daily lives, Djordjevich says.
“Places that feed the homeless are no longer allowed to encourage people dropping off their homemade pies (made with love) due to health regulations but at the same time people are picking out of garbage cans to sustain themselves. Our food system has become wrapped in red tape and hyper-liability scares.”
Advertising can be another culprit when it comes to “feeding” us misinformation about healthy food, she says.
“Take a look at what gets advertised. It isn’t the simple carrot or apple, it is highly processed, over-packaged foods that we don’t need in our diets, along with all the supplements. There just isn’t enough money in selling potatoes, even though wholesalers, retailers and shippers make a whole lot more than the farmer does on that potato.”
Bottom line, Djordjevich says, is that we can learn a lot on our own about what constitutes good food but we need leadership and role modelling from the health sector and government.
“We all need good healthy food and I think the majority [of people] do not know what that is and more importantly, the decision makers do not know what that is. I don’t think it is a wealth question, it is a lack of education and experience by the policy makers and probably a very strong lobby from the big corporations who make money on this so-called food.”