Archive for the ‘Beth Hunter’ Category

The round-up: the dark and light of Future Food

Beth-2014-1The past six months have provided us with a wonderful kaleidoscope of visions of future food — thought packages from a dozen leaders, thinkers and writers, published on our blog site every two weeks. I have had the privilege of knowing most of the writers for some time, and yet these pieces have revealed surprising reflections and new lessons. To wrap up the series, I revisited the blogs as a whole and offer some highlights and reflections riffing off them — quoting shamelessly with the aim of enticing readers (back) into their stories and nuggets of wisdom.

Our bloggers say that the future of food is dark and light.

 

Dark, because many of our current practices, culture and systems are proving to be destructive of our health, environment and communities. We see this in Indigenous communities whose traditional relationship to agriculture, land and food heritage has been disrupted, and who often suffer from food insecurity; in a seafood world mired by facelessness; in toxic junk food ads for KFC’s finger-lickin’ good nail polish; and in weather patterns which are now unpreventable, which for some farmers will be difficult or impossible to adapt to.

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Future Food

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Last summer my kids and I read Farmer Boy, the classic Laura Ingalls Wilder novel about a boy growing up on a homestead in New York. It was striking what a central role food played in Almonzo’s life, and how varied and abundant his family’s diet was – almost as striking as the varied and ever-present work to be done on the farm. The Sunday dinner table groaned with fresh bread, thick-crusted chicken pie, baked beans, ‘quivering slices’ of fat pork, dark-red beet pickles, pumpkin pie and apple pie with cheese.

little houseMy other summer read, the decidedly less bucolic Orenda by Joseph Boyden, reached further back into history, painting a portrait of the early, frequently bloody, contact between the Haudenosanee, Huron Wendats and French Jesuits in what is now central Ontario. Here too, food was very present – this time with descriptions of the three sisters, caribou, fish and berries. And while there were extravagant feasts, there was also famine, drought and crop blight.

Meanwhile, my reading also fast forwarded to newsflashes that Soylent – the beige beverage which claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs – had begun shipping to Canada. In the fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer. A University of Guelph study predicted that the average Canadian would spend 345$ more on groceries in 2016. Climate change, with all of its food-related causes, crept closer to the two degrees no one wants – but the issue finally received global attention in Paris and serious treatment in Ottawa. And the spectre of Syrian children starving in besieged villages haunted me.

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All this made me question what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going – and what can we do to change course?

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The Price of Good Food – an Acadian Tale

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My $10.25 meal

It’s Saturday morning and the Dieppe farmers’ market on the outskirts of Moncton is buzzing. Farm stalls offer a local bounty: vegetables galore, plump strawberries and blueberry jam, meats and cheese, wines and apple cider. At the food court, I get a vegetable sandwich ($5), and my son, a small box of dumplings ($5). We share a strawberry smoothie ($5.50) and get two muffins ($5). For $10.25 each, we’ve had a delicious locally-prepared meal, made largely with local ingredients.

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Dieppe Farmer’s Market, Dieppe, New Brunswick

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Painting the future: Opportunities for more healthy, local and sustainable food

Beth-2014-1Three years ago, a small group of senior staff from three foundations gathered to talk about our common efforts to support local and sustainable food development: helping farmers access markets, improving supply chains, protecting prime farmland, raising public awareness and informing public policy. What was missing, we mused, was the background to all this work that would help us and others understand the context for all these individual efforts: imports, exports, pollution, waste, taxes, and subsidies.

So we decided to jointly commission a piece of research that would paint this backdrop, engaging a team with a strong diversity of skills and experience, headed up by Atif Kubursi of Econometrics. The Econometrics team’s extensive experience in economic and transportation modelling would be complimented by Harry Cumming’s knowledge of rural dynamics and Rod MacRae’s food policy expertise. There was an on-going conversation between researchers and foundation staff as the work unfolded.

Unlike most artists painting a landscape, the researchers didn’t know what their painting would look like once completed. This made it very difficult to make a communications plan for the work, but kept the process exciting! The research set out to track major economic and environmental impacts of the food system in southern Ontario (a region where all three foundations were working). It found that local food impacts are largely positive — the food economy creates jobs and generates tax revenues.

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Trust and Traceability

The other day my husband dashed off an email to a dozen friends and neighbours titled ‘meat, eggs and parsnips’. Our farmer friend Kathleen was coming to town and had offered to deliver some food. He included Kathleen’s answers to his questions about how the food was produced:

we do nothing to the cattle; they are born and stay with the herd their entire life (until their one bad day). The cattle have only pasture and hay, nothing else (no finishing on grain). The chickens are truly free-range and are fed certified organic grains. They also have happy days with no other inputs from us (well I do pat them and our son hugs them). The vegetables are from organic seed if we can source it, and we only fertilize with manure from our animals. No herbicides, no pesticides, just lots of mulch and weeding.’

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Carbonated Food

Beth-2014-1The contribution of food production, processing, distribution, and consumption to our global carbon emissions has been a matter of concern and debate since we began worrying about climate change. And more of our food is ‘carbonated’ than Coke and Pepsi: food systems are responsible for somewhere between a fifth and a third of global greenhouse gas emissions[1].

Much of these emissions come from agriculture, although the contribution of transportation, refrigeration, consumer practices, and waste management is growing. Food companies can take steps to reduce their carbon footprint – and many are. A recently released report by Foundation grantee Climate Smart highlights what 77 food companies in BC have done to cut carbon, including Left Coast Naturals (a distribution company), Van Houtte coffee, Recycling Alternatives (biofuel recycling) and Tacofino food trucks. (more…)

The Dance of Deception

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“Each side is playing a role – the ultra-lean NGO that somehow is changing the world on pennies, and the benevolent philanthropist who always bets on the right horse.”

~Laurie Michaels (individual philanthropist, board chair Aspen Institute)

Horse Race. Photo by Sheree Zielke, 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Horse Race. Photo by Sheree Zielke, 2007. CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 / https://flic.kr/p/AbUi2

At the Canadian Environmental Grantmakers’ Network annual conference this past spring, I facilitated a session with Devika Shah of the Pembina Institute which was provocatively titled Interrupting the Dance of Deception. The panel was made up of two funders and two ‘fundees’, and their reflections kicked off an animated discussion, which has stayed with me many weeks later.

The term dance of deception was coined by former McConnell Foundation CEO Tim Brodhead, referring to a dynamic that occurs when groups pretend they can solve a huge problem, and funders pretend to believe them. As Tim has explained, this deception is not intentional or malicious in any way. Rather, it refers to a tendency among organizations and funders to jointly develop funding agreements and relationships without fully acknowledging that the best laid plans are often derailed by power and politics. Recognizing that as funders we do sometimes ‘bet on the wrong horses’, and that grantees often operate in a complex and unpredictable landscape, a reflection on the session seemed an apt way to begin this blog.

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