BEYOND THE HEADLINES: Food for thought

I’ll be honest, I never worry about finding something to eat. Open the fridge or the cupboard, and something’s there. Feeling slightly famished while running errands, out comes the  debit card.

But for many people in the North Okanagan, putting food on the table — and particularly nutritious items — is increasingly a struggle. If you are working a minimum wage job, on social assistance or unemployed, rent and utilities usually come first. Eating health loses out.

In 2009, the Dieticians of Canada looked at the cost of eating. At that time, the monthly cost of a nutritious food basket for a family of four was $872, while that same family on income assistance would need more than 100 per cent of their income for shelter and food only. The situation doesn’t change for a single man on a disability pension or a single older woman on income assistance.

When there’s not enough to eat at home, you turn to those willing to lend a hand.

Forty-six per cent of the clients at the Vernon food bank are families with children while the Upper Room Mission serves about 250 meals a day.

In Lumby, about 50 to 60 clients a month use the food bank there, and the Armstrong Boys and Girls Club anticipated handing out 150 hampers last Christmas. Service providers in Enderby report an increase in children with not enough to eat.

Local schools are also identifying a need for emergency resources for students and families.

There was a time when many of these agencies worked independently, not quite sure what the other was doing or if there was a way of working together. But that’s no longer the case.

Recently, Partners in Action and the Emergency Food Action team brought together stakeholders to increase co-ordination and efficiency in order to meet the needs of the community. The goal was to provide a list of resources presently available, identify gaps and duplications and set up a networking system for groups.

Other communities have tackled the issue of food security head-on and many of those items were discussed by participants in the session.

They included expanding community kitchens so more people can learn how to cook staple foods from scratch, possibly exploring a community farm at O’Keefe Ranch, establishing small-scale pocket markets where local food can be sold at lower than premium prices,  perhaps building a community greenhouse and establishing a service to loan out canners and dehydrators.

Emphasis was also placed on local initiatives such as the Good Food Box program and the community gardens that have taken root.

The important aspect of many of these concepts is getting beyond short-term emergency relief and providing people with the skills needed to sustain themselves long-term.

We’re all familiar with the Chinese proverb: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach a man to fish and he will eat for the rest of his life.”

But while self-sufficiency is admirable, there  is a role for all of us to play in ensuring that our neighbours, and perhaps even loved ones, aren’t going hungry.

Beyond dropping off a bag of food at the food bank — which has long been critical to the entire support system — consider sharing any excess produce you grow in your garden.

If you have spent a lifetime canning or freezing food, share your skills with someone. Volunteer at the mission or at a community garden.

And most of all, be compassionate because the circumstances that have led to so many people going without food could ultimately happen to us.

—Richard Rolke is The Morning Star’s senior reporter.


Vernon Morning Star