“Like slavery and apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is people who have made poverty and tolerated poverty, and it is people who will overcome it.” Nelson Mandela
Nelson Mandela is dead. Recently, we also marked the anniversary of the death of John Lennon, another leader of peace and global unity. Both of their messages are consistent that we as people can collectively make a difference. Just as powerful as eradicating discrimination, access to good food can assist in and be a foundation of change. Food connects.
Over the holidays, we share food as we celebrate with family and friends. For some, food is in excess, while others are visiting emergency food shelters.
Every day is a good day to consider initiatives that foster a more inclusive and sustainable food system.
“Food security is a complex sustainable development issue,” states the World Heath Organization website. “Access to good food is linked to health through fighting malnutrition, but also to sustainable economic development, environment, and trade.”
Dr. Melanie Bedore is an adjunct professor with the Queens University Department of Geography. She holds a doctorate in human geography and is a specialist in urban food systems and food access. Her doctoral work included studies on food insecurity locally and nationally through interviews and focus groups.
“You qualify as food insecure if you fit the following attributes,” said Bedore.
“By not having enough food to eat because of lack of money; worrying that there won’t be enough to eat because of lack of money; or identified as not eating the quality or variety of foods that you would like because of the lack of money.”
The argument is that there is enough food available in the world; the problem is distribution and excess in some areas. It’s a complex topic-poverty is very real for many, not only overseas, but also in our community today. We need to provide community food shelters and be more innovative in our approach through education about food, cooking and preservation. Individuals should have access to food in an inclusive and sustainable way.
“It’s a tricky time of the year for those who are food insecure,” said Bedore. “You have the extra strain of gift buying and access problems with the weather. Just navigating your way to the grocery store can be an issue in bad weather with no car, icy roads and juggling bags. You also have the added judgment of the general population. There is negativity around charity and accepting donations, sometimes self-denial about how much things are affected by gift giving.”
The economy shows itself to be volatile and that people’s economic security should not be taken for granted.
A recent Toronto Star article described the reality of a middle class man who was laid off from his job of thirty years and is now part of the working poor. He had to sell his house and take a job much below his level of experience just to survive. He never imagined this loss. He had envisioned a comfortable retirement, with savings and his home
paid for. Job insecurity has left him feeling lost and judged in his new environment.
Why is it that if you receive aid or assistance that our community stereotypes and subjects one to judgments? The obvious answer is that most feel they pay taxes and are contributing to the economic fabric of the community. “Older members of the community recall a time in Canada when we had the big universal welfare programs,”
said Bedore. “They’ve gone through decades of public investment in trying to get a handle on poverty that they often feel disenfranchised. However, now more that ever we need to get poverty under control.”
Why should I pay for someone else’s poor spending habits? Poverty is so much more than that and someday it could be you.
Today, the working poor in our community includes students, families and even seniors trying to make ends meet.
“Some individuals go without as a choice,” said Bedore. “They eat a more austere diet as a value-based decision, while others do not have a choice and often are making a trade-off based on a lack of choice but as a survival skill.”
Food banks are necessary to a community. They assist individuals during the last couple of days of the month when finances can be stretched. Today food banks are such established institutions in communities that it’s hard to imagine not having one. They do so much good work behind the scenes besides providing food.
“The danger is that it can give a community a false sense that poverty is under control and being managed,” said Bedore. “It lulls us into complacency. We forget that poverty is a political issue. Social justice needs to provide a more fair society.”
Kingston is a wonderful city, but the reality is that we live in one of the most demographically polarized cities in terms of class and the difference between the poor and the wealthy. Headway is being made to assist homelessness. Food insecurity is more generalized. It includes individuals who may not be homeless but are trying to survive and manage on very little money.
“It takes the stop gap measures like emergency food programs [such as school lunch program] and the distribution of food,” said Bedore. “These are channels to catch people when they have an immediate need. They should exist and they are a fabric of communal charity and help for each other.
“Social justice also demands really tough shifts in the way we think about poverty. It means questioning stereotypes with which we are so comfortable. You can’t have social justice if you keep blaming people and holding people responsible for their own lot in life. We as a community need to be willing to politicize the issues.”
Adequate food should be available to everyone. This year, let’s begin by rethinking our stereotypes.
Do not tolerate poverty because, as Mandela said, it is the people who can overcome it.
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