This is my favourite time of year. Holding onto each hour of warmth, knowing that it may not last much longer; enjoying walks in the crisp evenings; the advent of hearty meals – those favourites that were shelved during the summer but are now seasonal and comforting.
I love food, too. I love thinking about food; planning menus and imagining how different flavors and textures will play off one another. I love the presentation of a well-executed meal. And, of course, I love eating. Not any food, mind you, but honest to goodness food – the kind that makes your body sing “Thaaaank you!” The kind that is put together thoughtfully and intentionally; the kind that should be shared. Most of all, I love sharing food.
Growing up, eating was very much a social event. The family rule was that we did not eat dinner until everybody was home – between my dad’s work schedule and my brothers’ and my own sports and student council commitments, this often meant we ate closer to 9 than to 6. Although this was often frustrating, I now appreciate the importance of those nightly gatherings. Family dinners ensured that we all checked in with one another at least once a day, that we knew when someone was having a hard time or excelling, that no matter how busy we were we remained an active part of each others’ lives.
In sharing food, we blur the lines between one another and thereby strengthen our families, friendships and community at large.
That sort of togetherness is one of the pivotal roles that food plays in our lives. The need to eat is fundamental to our existence – it is the great normalizer. The old adage – that we are what we eat – is true. Our cells are being replaced all the time; the energy and nutrients necessary for that to occur come directly from our food. Christian Coff, of the Centre for Ethics and Law in Copenhagen, observed that “[t]he social meal rejects egoism and binds individuals together in a community and a common identity.” In sharing food, we blur the lines between one another and thereby strengthen our families, friendships and community at large.
It’s not always so easy
Of course, it is well and good to say we should all be eating good food, prepared well and with care. In actuality there are myriad challenges, particularly on an island with our climate and terrain. With rising food costs, the proliferation of monoculture, and the ever-increasing control of the food-supply by major multinational corporations, the issue of food-security in Newfoundland and Labrador is as important as ever. As Laura Nelson-Hamilton brought to our attention in this publication almost a year ago, the island only ever has a two-to-three day supply of fresh produce, the overwhelming majority of which is produced far away and shipped in. This leaves us vulnerable in the event of meteorological or political interruptions to delivery.
…the island only ever has a two-to-three day supply of fresh produce…This leaves us vulnerable in the event of meteorological or political interruptions to delivery.
Apart from the fragile nature of our food supply in general, the problem is exacerbated the further one gets from a major city-centre, with outport communities receiving produce closer to its expiry date and often at an increased cost. Healthier food options are often scarce and, even when available, inaccessible to many due to cost. Given the fact that we lead the nation both in obesity rates and in diabetes, a solution must be reached. We are already seeing soaring medical costs impacting the people of our province: the cost of treatment for diabetic patients alone is projected to reach $322 million per year by 2020.
It is important – and not just due to the significant cost of treatment – that we strive for a higher quality of life free of preventable and unnecessary illness. We should be striving for a better life for the next generation of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians – the first generation predicted to have a shorter lifespan than their parents in over 200 years.
I intend this column to be a step in that direction. It will focus on food security, sustainability, food traditions, and interesting food events or trends happening in the province. I hope this will provide an opportunity to initiate a broader and continued conversation about our experiences, difficulties and triumphs in all things food-related on the island.
What food issues matter to you?