This blog will really illustrate the enormity of food insecurity, from the top of the world basically almost to the equator. It’s a huge picture, but I would like to make some sense from it. In between these geographic areas are huge differences in how food is perceived, acquired, cooked, eaten, and yes, thrown away or wasted. I would like to take some poetic license here and treat this discussion as a journey, perhaps by train or airplane, from the Canadian High Arctic to at least as far south as California, in the U.S.
The Dene and Inuit, for the lack of a precise anthropological term here, are caught between a rock and a hard place. They are a perfect example of culture clash; here it is between Western customs and values, and one of a more precisely tuned culture for its geographical location, namely the Arctic. On the one hand they are expected to live within and meet Western standards of living: eating market, industrialized food, a non-aboriginal education, jobs, all the trappings of our culture. Cheap junk food and confectionary are routinely eaten by the children, whereas the elders note, if they eat seal they are full all day. One still must argue that the government-imposed caribou-hunting ban is necessary. If the caribou die out, then there will be none for anyone, ever. We’ve seen this before with the bison (who made a wonderful comeback, after being butchered and almost exterminated by white men). The junk food leaves them hungry again, often within two hours. Not to mention unhealthy. On the other hand, they can’t afford good food; they can’t afford to hunt, or not to hunt, if you see the conundrum. They are isolated, governed by Canada, a government and a system that doesn’t have a clue of how to work with them. Even if they were to tell the bureaucrats, it would and has, fallen on deaf ears. Their culture has been irrevocably changed, with their own hunting and cooking skills mostly gone, and there is no reason to see anything other than a further decline. These people are hungry and starving, let’s be honest.
Moving southward on our imaginary plane, to the next stop of our journey, we come to the south, in this case, southern Canada, my Canada, the one with the western values, eating habits, and lack of cooking skills. People are hungry here too, with food deserts in our major cities, like Toronto or Saskatoon . The food consumed here is primarily industrial, again a disastrous variety of junk food or highly processed food. Again, people have a hard time affording good, fresh food, and have a further disadvantage of living in or near a food desert. Who wants to carry bags of food one kilometer in both directions? How much of heavy items, like milk and fruit, could a person realistically be expected to carry? You end up with a situation, which despite the change in geography is very similar: hungry people.
Back onto our favorite conveyance, on a short hop to Chicago. Again, food deserts characterize the inner city. This is a huge American city, not unlike Toronto, which has a history of having been a food hub for meat, grain, all manner of produce. As all of these cities evolved, regardless of where in North America, it becomes evident that the problems and hunger seem to follow wherever we go on our journey. Past history seems irrelevant.
Now we’re going to jump aboard, say Amtrak’s Southwest Chief from Chicago to California, say Anaheim, where it is a warm, sunny state (at least the Southern part is), with seemingly no shortage of food. After all, this is the state where a large part of our food in Canada comes from, be it meat, lettuce, vegetables in general, or fruits, nuts, wines; it would seem the sky is the limit. Surely no food deserts or hungry people. This view is inaccurate as well, as the industrial diet has left no place untouched. Here, though, we witness a different phenomenon (which can in reality be seen in any city): freeganism and dumpster diving. The wealth of food to be had for free! It’s very tempting, plenteous, what an idea. Gross, safe or healthy or not, average and not so average people are eating very well, with meat, eggs, bread, fruits and vegetables or whatever is thrown away. The irony is inescapable: Whether in the Arctic, or our North American cities, people are hungry. Until we find a dumpster. Unfortunately, the Inuit and Dene aren’t so lucky, no huge amounts of waste in the mostly frozen north. We, however, all could live very well off the waste of our own society, the prodigious amounts of perfectly good food all thrown away.
Photo Credit: Bob Van Slooten