What is Food Security?
Food Security means that all people at all times have physical & economic access to adequate amounts of nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods, which are produced in an environmentally sustainable and socially just manner, and that people are able to make informed decisions about their food choices.
Food Security also means that the people who produce our food are able to earn a decent, living wage growing, catching, producing, processing, transporting, retailing, and serving food.
At the core of food security is access to healthy food and optimal nutrition for all. Food access is closely linked to food supply, so food security is dependent on a healthy and sustainable food system.
The food system includes the production, processing, distribution, marketing, acquisition, and consumption of food.
Sustainable Food Systems
A healthy, sustainable food system is one that focuses on Environmental Health, Economic Vitality, and Human Health & Social Equity.
- Environmental Health – ensures that food production and procurement do not compromise the land, air, or water now or for future generations.
- Economic Vitality – ensures that the people who are producing our food are able to earn a decent living wage doing so. This ensures that producers can continue to produce our food.
- Human Health & Social Equity – ensures that particular importance is placed on community development and the health of the community, making sure that healthy foods are available economically and physically to the community and that people are able to access these foods in a dignified manner.
Food Security in Newfoundland and Labrador
As a geographically isolated province, Newfoundland and Labrador faces a unique set of food security challenges:
- Currently, as a province, we are producing only 10% of the fresh vegetables available at major wholesalers, and as a result of this we have an estimated 2 to 3 day supply of fresh vegetables in the event of a crisis that disrupts the supply chain. Recent examples of food supply crises in Newfoundland and Labrador include Hurricane Igor, which shut down many roads in eastern Newfoundland for days, and the labour lock-out at the Port of Montreal, which threatened to stop more than half of the food shipments coming to the island.
- There are also challenges we face in terms of expanding production. The average age of farmers in the province is 55 and continues to rise. And new farmers face hurdles with access to land, access to capital, and availability of labour.
- Currently most fish products produced locally are exported.
- Many rural and remote communities do not have a population large enough to support a full local grocery store so many residents depend on transportation over long distances to buy healthy food.
- Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have the lowest rate among the provinces of consumption of at least 5 fruits and vegetables per day.
- NL has the highest rate of per capita food bank usage in Canada (5.6% of the population in 2011).
- The province has the highest rate of overweight and obese people in Canada (63.2%) and the second highest rate of diabetes in Canada (8.3%).
Despite these challenges, Newfoundland and Labrador has a strong tradition of individuals growing, hunting, fishing, preparing, and preserving local food.
The province has an abundance of wild foods ranging from berries and teas to wild game and fish. Some wild berries in the province include blueberries, blackberries, raspberries, strawberries, Saskatoon berries, bakeapples, partridge berries, and cranberries.
Elliston, on the Bonavista peninsula, is known as the root cellar capital of the world. Root cellars were used across the province to store root crops over the winter. FSN has chosen the Root Cellar as a symbol of Newfoundland & Labrador’s unique agricultural heritage and current potential for increased food self-sufficiency in it’s Root Cellars Rock project.
The Food Security Continuum
The Food Security Continuum helps to illustrate the complexity of food security and the various types of work that can be done to address some of the food security challenges we face. Food security work often happens in this order, moving from short-term relief towards longer term systems change and policy work.
Some food security programs are combinations of these stages (an example would be a food bank which also offers a community kitchen program to its users).
1. Emergency and Short-Term Relief Strategies
The first stage of the continuum is the Short Term Relief Stage, or Emergency Food Relief work. This stage is focused on supporting those who are most food insecure and in need of food immediately.
Examples include soup kitchens, food banks, school lunch programs, and other programs that give food to people in need without requiring any type of commitment in return. These initiatives provide short-term relief for the immediate problem of hunger, but do not deal with the underlying problems that cause food insecurity, such as poverty, long-term access to food, and food skills. There are many such programs in Newfoundland and Labrador. Our province has the highest rate of per capita food bank usage in Canada (5.6% of the population in 2011).
Examples in Newfoundland and Labrador include:
- Community and Church sponsored food banks
- Status of Women Councils and Women’s Centres
- School Lunch Association
2. Capacity Building Strategies
Capacity Building Strategies focus on building individual and community skills that will help communities become more food secure. FSN focuses on supporting this kind of work in communities across the province. This can include education and capacity building around gardening, wild food harvesting, cooking, preserving foods, and also social support network building. These activities help provide individuals and communities with the basic food skills needed to feed themselves and their families and help them to rely less on outside food sources or give-aways.
Individual skill-building strategies:
- Programs where individuals gain knowledge and develop skills to grow, gather, catch, produce, prepare, or preserve their own food.
- Examples include cooking classes, composting and vegetable gardening workshops, and teaching traditional food customs.
Community skill-building strategies:
- Programs that allow people a chance to come together and develop social support networks.
- Examples include community gardens, community kitchens, farmers’ markets, food co-ops, “buy local” campaigns, and food buying clubs.
Examples in Newfoundland and Labrador:
- Farmers’ markets in the province have grown to ten full-season and part-season markets in the past 5 years.
- Community gardens and school gardens are increasing in number.
- A Buy Local! Buy Fresh! Avalon Region map was produced by the four Avalon economic development boards for the first time in 2010 with 25 participating farms.
- The “Buy Local – Keep it in Kittiwake” program, launched in 2007 by the Kittiwake Economic Development Corporation, educates consumers on the positives of buying local and provides retailers and restaurants with a database of local farmers from which to source their food.
3. Systems Change Strategies
Systems change work consists of initiatives that are focused on making long term policy or programming change to improve community food security conditions. This can include:
- food security networks such as FSN and Food Secure Canada;
- food security working groups;
- food charters; and
- food policy organizations.
The key activity in this stage that FSN has undertaken are community-led food assessments, where communities identify the challenges and opportunities they face in regards to food security in order to develop community based action plans. Community-led Food Assessments have been initiated or completed in Hopedale, Upper Lake Melville, Labrador West, and the Burin Peninsula.
The People’s Food Policy Project is an initiative of Food Secure Canada involving over 3500 Canadians in local ‘kitchen table talks’. The policy makes recommendations and provides concrete guidelines for making Canada Food Secure.