It’s food drive season again and the London Food Bank’s annual spring event is taking on new meaning. But must we always maintain this debilitating distinction between the poor and ourselves?
It’s becoming clear that food — its production, value, cost, distribution, sustainability, and necessity for the poor — is about to become a major preoccupation for the next generation. How we organize around food as a community says something about who we are. The Conference Board of Canada reminds us that some 2.5 million Canadians are “food insecure.” Farmers and fishers are going out of business in significant numbers. Access to healthy food is a problem and the inevitable rise in the price of oil will see food costs continue to soar.
What London needs is a whole food policy. We are surrounded by some of the best farmland in the world but local citizens continue to opt for packaged and goods covered in pesticides flown in from the global market. It’s a recipe for dysfunction — a costly one — and requires some immediate attention.
Fortunately there are literally dozens of groups in the city and outlying areas seeking to put healthy food on our tables in a manner that draws the marginalized into the broader community. Teresa Rutten is one of the most outspoken community activists on the food file and she speaks with eloquence concerning what it will take to turn London food friendly. “Our status quo manner of acquiring food has destroyed our ability to source local, as well as the infrastructure required to support farmers who could produce the variety we used to see in Ontario,” she says with an ardour that’s compelling.
An increasing number of Londoners are taking the challenge seriously. Along with the London Food Bank’s Community Harvest program are dozens of groups with names like Plant-a-Row, Grow-a-Row, Glean on Me, Food, Not Lawns, Community Gardens, London Food Forest, and Garden Gates Open, to name only a few.
But Rutten and others like her are raising their collective sights higher. They are hoping and planning around a holistic food security initiative for London that creates a productive public/private mix that would be lucrative, healthy and include all citizens.
They comprehend that London, for all its agricultural surroundings, is late-to-the-game in building such initiatives compared with other regions around the world.
Some of the pieces for a more comprehensive plan are now in place. London now has its own food charter which has acquired approval by City Council. But now what to do with it? How to implement the next stage remains the big question.
This much we know. Food grown for transporting over long distances is genetically chosen for travel as opposed to nutrition. Farmers take care of 75% of the land in our region, but are forced to ship their food elsewhere. Food markets are becoming increasingly popular in London but have yet to receive the kind of public and governmental support required to “change the channel” towards a healthier and sustainable food supply. Food costs will only soar unless we learn to tap into our local abundance.
We can learn from places like Tadmorden, England, where citizens worked together with local government to turn their community and surrounding regions into a moveable feast. At no cost to the municipality, they succeeded in openly growing food on public lands in front of their police station, high school, boulevards, and country acres. All families can access such foodstuffs at any time and Tadmorden has become a top “food secure” area. Their motto is simple — “If You Eat, You’re In.”
London is much closer to this reality than we realize, but it will take public confidence and participation, along with private interest, to provide our city with an equitable food supply. The London Food Bank could use your help during this food drive, but above that we can all help one another to the healthier food of tomorrow that sustains all of us. The answer is literally on our doorstep and requires only the will and leadership to implement it.
Glen Pearson is co-director of the London Food Bank and a former Liberal MP for the riding of London North Centre.ac.nosraepnelgnull@nelg