THE MAINSTREETER’S SOCIAL ISSUES SERIES – Food Security in the Pandemic – and Beyond

John Dance

Moderator Nathalie Childs (Left) and panelists Professor Amanda Wilson, Phil Mount and Elly Vandenberg provided their Old Ottawa East online audience with a comprehensive understanding of food security. Photo Supplied

Moderator Nathalie Childs (Left) and panelists Professor Amanda Wilson, Phil Mount and Elly Vandenberg provided their Old Ottawa East online audience with a comprehensive understanding of food security. Photo Supplied


“The most vulnerable are the most affected,” Elly Vandenberg, Director Global Office Canada for the United Nations World Food Program (WFP), told participants at the Food Security panel webinar hosted October 16 by three key organizations within Old Ottawa East (OOE).

Food security is a term that encompasses the goal of making food a human right and ensuring the availability of healthy and safe food for all in a sustainable and resilient manner. The pandemic has exacerbated the difficulties of making progress on food security, as the expert panellists explained to an audience of about 70 local residents on a Zoom webinar.

The panel was the first session of the Social Issues Discussion Series initiated by The Mainstreeter in collaboration with the Mauril-Bélanger Social Innovation Workshop of Saint Paul University and the Community Activities Group of Old Ottawa East.

“Small businesses suffer, community gardens struggle, but Coca-Cola deliveries are not missed,” noted panellist Amanda Wilson, assistant professor in the School of Social Innovation at Saint Paul University. Wilson, an expert on food systems, cooperatives and collective organizing, spoke of the added pressure on food banks caused in part by reductions to public transit that have made it more difficult to access their locations.

The third panellist, Phil Mount, the associate director of Just Food, a nonprofit that enhances access to healthful food for everyone in the Ottawa region, explained that “those who are food insecure are far more likely to report poor health.” COVID-19 has resulted in increased food prices but also more people who grow their own food and purchase local, healthy food, he noted. Just Food and other organizations worked hard to ensure the initial closure of community gardens was overturned.

The theme of producing locally is also a key thrust of the WFP, Vandenberg noted. Initially, the program focused on transferring food from North America to countries in need, but now the greater effort is on supporting local production so that “today’s food recipients are tomorrow’s suppliers.” WFP now connects small producers to markets and encourages diversification.

During the pandemic, the increase in the demand for local food in Ottawa has been fostered by increased online accessibility of consumers to farms, as demonstrated by Agricola Cooperative Farm, a vendor at the Main Farmers’ Market. Food producers want long-term customers, Mount noted. And, he said, they need to have “a fair income” and improvements to rural infrastructure.

Community gardens are also key to improving accessibility to healthy food, the panellist commented.

As the discussion shifted to how to improve food security, Mount made the case for developing long-term resilience in local food production. “We need to find ways to support those who want to grow food for their neighbours.”

Stopping food waste is another key goal of WFP. “One-third of what’s produced is wasted. If it were saved, we could feed two billion people,” Vandenberg said. The essential link between food security and both peace and good health was a theme repeated throughout the evening.

The issue of food banks was raised several times and the panellists agreed that “the charity food model” is not the solution to food insecurity. “We need to focus on institutional change,” said Wilson. In response to the question of what could “the more fortunate among us do to support food insecurity,” Mount said they should “approach their legislative leaders and make it clear that we need solutions to food insecurity.”

“We need to deal with the underlying circumstances, understand the changes that would address the issues, and get the policymakers engaged,” concluded Phyllis Odenbach Sutton, chair of the webcast session.

The panel was moderated by Natalie Childs, a member of Agricola in Papineauville. She and her colleagues actively participate in the Main Farmers’ Market and her farm was the source of many plants and much produce that nourished OOE residents during the pandemic.

The series will have five more free community webcasts throughout 2021, with the next panel focused on the issue of sustaining biodiversity in Old Ottawa East, which will take place on Wednesday, January 20, 2021. Subsequent webinars have now been announced and include topics such as: affordable housing and healthy, diverse communities, public safety and community policing, advocacy in OOE and a planning and development session entitled “Old Ottawa East – 2040”.

The Food Security webinar can be viewed online at:  https://drive.google.com/drive/folders/122UXLrKuF3Ot5Bo47qLunD-s06ADlep. For those seeking additional information on the topic of Food Security, references to links mentioned during the webinar include:

https://cdn.wfp.org/2020/stop-the-waste
https://proof.utoronto.ca
https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2019/11/PROOF_FACTSHEET_Foodbanks-112019.pdf
https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/public-policyfactsheet.pdf
https://www.publichealthontario.ca/-/media/documents/e/2020/ebsustainable-food-systems.pdf?la=en
https://www.theglobeandmail.com/featured-reports/article-canadas-agri-food-sector-adapts-to-pandemic-challenges-to-keep/
https://www.nfu.ca/policy/envisioning-a-post-pandemic-agriculture-and-food-system/
https://goodfoodottawa.ca
https://ottawaschoolfood.ca
https://sustainontario.com
https://justfood.ca/thecommons/

 
 
 
 

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