A matter of food

Local activist organizations, co-ops weigh in on Manitoba’s food security issues

Three Grade 11 students from Stonewall Collegiate compete in Localvore Iron Chef, a cook-off organized by Food Matters Manitoba, a local organization dedicated to promoting healthy, sustainable, locally grown food. Jeff Miller

If you don’t know where the food in your fridge came from, you’re not alone.

However, a number of provincial non-profit and co-op groups are trying to make you more aware of just how your dinner gets from the ground to your plate.

“Manitoba is very export oriented,” said Erika Frey, growing local communications coordinator for Food Matters Manitoba. “Our work is to try to balance that - to get things going back into the local markets.”

Food Matters Manitoba is an organization dedicated to the proposition that all Manitobans should have equal access to healthy, sustainable, locally grown food through community events and food security projects.

One such event was Feb. 4’s Localvore Iron Chef Cook-Off. The cook-off aimed to educate high school students about healthy, sustainable food choices. Recipes for the contest were made with locally grown, organic ingredients. 

Since the competition, Sam Kruz, who won by cooking a three cheese smoked goldeye cannelloni with gin tomato sauce, has vowed to use more sustainable food items.

“Before this competition, I would buy food of good quality,” said Kruz. “But I never looked into the importance of local production and organic food.”

The Funguis, Kruz’s kitchen team from the Louis Riel Arts and Technology Centre, used 26 locally, organically grown items in the dish.

Kruz said the hardest part was locating the ingredients.

“It took lots of research to find out how companies get their food,” said Cruz. “Even companies that sell organic and local don’t always advertise it. They should highlight the fact that they have sustainable food.”

Paul Chorney, community liaison for Food Matters Manitoba, contends that access to food production information is, indeed, a problem for the province.

“We are disconnected from our food,” Chorney said. “We don’t know where food comes from, how animals are treated, if it’s sustainable, if workers are paid fair wages. One of our goals is to rebuild that connection.”

Jesse Thorne-Finch, co-founder of South Osborne Community Co-op, an organization working to implement sustainable community food service in the Osborne area, also calls for food production transparency.

“Fundamentally, I don’t think the interests of consumers are deleteriously impacted by being more completely informed by their food choices,” said Thorne-Finch.

Chorney notes that the decline of the family farm is detrimental to the province.

“Farmers are reaching retirement age and their children don’t want to carry on because of how difficult a farm is to run,” said Chorney. “More and more farms are becoming corporate. One of the things we work on is how to get young people interested in farming.”

Thorne-Finch believes other methods are worth considering.

“As gaps open in our food production system, we are going to have to be very innovative in filling them,” he said. “Community, urban gardening is a reasonable means of filling this gap. That is to say, for many communities this is a useful tool to supplement their diets. But, by no means is it replacing family farms.”

The University of Winnipeg will be housing the Food Matters Manitoba Growing Local Conference from Feb. 24 to 26.

The conference includes a culinary tour of Winnipeg restaurants, guest speaker Joel Salatin from the documentary Food Inc. and various workshops on sustainable food skills.

According to Frey, the conference is set to tackle Manitoba’s awareness about food production.

“I think that something we should all, as humans, realize is that food is part of what everyone does in our daily life,” said Frey. “Production changes affect everyone. Our society will completely change when food production changes.”

Published in Volume 65, Number 20 of The Uniter (February 24, 2011)

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