Table Matters tabling North Shore Food Charter

Table Matters event Nov. 22 in the City of North Vancouver - Todd Coyne photo
Table Matters event Nov. 22 in the City of North Vancouver
— image credit: Todd Coyne photo

Talking politics at the dinner table might make for rude company, but for a growing group of North Shore residents the politics of what’s on your plate is topic of discussion No. 1.

They’re urban agriculturalists, locavores, farmers’ marketeers and everyday people concerned about food safety, sustainability, security and access.

For years they’ve been publicly meeting and eating their way across the three municipalities under the umbrella of the North Shore Table Matters Network.

Now those 200 or so members are preparing to lay down the law on the local food supply. That is, they’re working to hash out the terms and wording of what they’re calling the North Shore Food Charter — a document they anticipate municipal governments ratifying in the New Year.

“It’s a one- or two-page, very high-level vision statement that essentially is trying to get all the North Shore municipalities moving in the same direction,” Heather Johnstone of the Edible Garden Project told The Outlook at a Nov. 22 community consultation and food charter input session at North Vancouver city hall.

Two themes most commonly cropping up at these discussions of food fairness are ensuring the access and affordability of healthy, sustainable foods for people with economic, geographic or physical impediments.

Seniors, for instance, are often limited in their food choices to the nearest grocery store accessible by transit, and once there, may be limited in their choices by a fixed income.

Others’ options may be hamstrung by what’s available to eat at their school or work cafeteria, where meal offerings are often determined by agribusiness economics rather than by taste, nutrition or environmental impact.

“From the provincial perspective, the Ministry of Agriculture is focused on agricultural production and is largely viewed as an economic venture,” Johnstone told attendees at the charter meeting. “This means there’s a focus on producing crops for export often, producing jobs and generating revenue and the focus is not necessarily or producing high-quality food.”

One of the challenges facing the authors of the North Shore Food Charter is that food policy hasn’t typically fallen within the purview of municipal governments, though that may be changing.

This year, delegations came to all three North Shore municipalities, lobbying for food production and urban agricultural initiatives like backyard beekeeping, chicken coops, farmers’ markets and community food gardens. In most every instance, municipal politicians granted their wishes.

“This is not a discussion that’s happening behind closed doors, or in Ottawa, in city hall,” Johnstone said of the North Shore Food Charter. “It’s a discussion that’s happening around the table as we share a meal, as you’re shopping for your groceries in the grocery store and as you’re feeding your families. This is an opportunity for us to create what we want to see around food.”

The Table Matters Network will meet again Feb. 4 in the District of North Vancouver to finalize a draft of the food charter before presenting it to the North Vancouver and West Vancouver councils for approval, likely in early spring.

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