Groups host local food discussion; Radio host Jon Steinman to lead discussion on why buying local food is important

Eric Lewis. The Times - Transcript. Moncton, N.B.: Sep 25, 2009. pg. A.13


(Copyright 2009 Times & Transcript (Moncton))

A common thread among three different special interest groups has drawn them together to host an event on Monday night in Dieppe that focuses on buying local food.

The Fundy Biosphere Reserve, the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network and Post Carbon Greater Moncton are partnering to bring Jon Steinman, founder and host of Deconstructing Dinner, an environmental, food-oriented radio show, to the Dieppe Market on Monday at 7 p.m.

Steinman, from British Columbia, will make a presentation that will be followed by a bilingual discussion on the food movement in Canada and what it looks like locally. The event is free to attend and organizers are hoping for a good turnout.

The discussion will revolve around whether we know where our food comes from, whether or not we've become dependent on food that comes from away, and of course, how all this affects all of us.

"Local food has become a big issue," says Andrew Spring, executive director of the Fundy Biosphere Reserve, which promotes sustainable living. "People, they want to buy locally."

Spring says he hopes Monday's event kick-starts a series of discussions from local residents about their food. He doesn't expect it to completely change the way everyone shops overnight, but he hopes it gets people thinking about and discussing the topic and perhaps making an effort to buy more local products.

The three groups contend that buying local is important for social, economic and environmental reasons.

They say buying local not only supports local farmers, thereby helping sustain the local economy, but it also cuts down on our carbon footprint because the food doesn't have to travel as far.

"If we don't change our attitudes and behaviours, we will no longer have local producers," says Micha Fardy, co-chair of the New Brunswick Food Security Action Network. "And then we're at incredible risk, because we're dependent on what can be shipped in and shipped out."

The New Brunswick Food Security Action Network is made up of food producers, government departments, public health nurses and many other groups. It looks at the many issues surrounding food security, which exists when all citizens have access to nutritious, culturally appropriate food produced in a sustainable manner, Fardy says.

If local farms were to cease to exist, Michel Desjardins, spokesperson for Post Carbon Greater Moncton, says we would all be in big trouble. His group works to assist the community with reducing its dependency on fossil fuel energy.

"Every step in (the food chain) is highly dependent on oil," says Desjardins. "So if the price of oil goes up, well guess what? The price of food will go up significantly as well. We're interested in food because we believe in the context of increasing energy prices, food is a top priority."

So what exactly does it mean to buy local?

Desjardins says there is no right or wrong way to look at it, but generally the closer you are to the food source, the better.

"If you can eat very locally, that's great," he says. "If you can eat from New Brunswick, that's alright. If you can eat Atlantic, that's probably quite good as well. But if you eat carrots that come from Costa Rica or Chile ... well, it's everybody's choice, but I'm not sure people are going to be able to enjoy apples from New Zealand in the future."

He believes that in the future, buying exotic fruits from places like New Zealand or Chile simply won't be feasible because the cost of transporting it is going to be too great.

Locally produced food is available at both the Moncton and Dieppe markets and many items can now be found in grocery stores alongside items from around the globe.

All three groups acknowledge that consumers have gotten used to enjoying a wide variety of food from all over the world, year-round, including many things that simply can't be grown in our climate.

Fardy and Spring suggest that perhaps a balance can be struck between buying local and treating oneself with more exotic items from away.

Desjardins says past generations couldn't just eat any sort of fresh fruit they liked in the middle of a New Brunswick winter, and perhaps we should get used to that idea.

"I think that we're going to have to get used to less variety," he says. "And that's the way our grandparents lived, so it's not that exotic. For hundreds of years, that's how people lived."

Spring adds that buying local doesn't necessarily stop at supporting local farmers either. It could also mean purchasing product from local folks who make preserves or supporting restaurants that buy local product.

While each of the three organizations involved in Monday's discussion have different objectives and mandates, they all agree the issue of local food is an important one, and one that everyone needs to start discussing.

"The greater our understanding of the issue of local food, the more we can decide as an informed group of citizens what is best for our city, our region and our province," says Fardy. "Every one of us eats and every one of us deserves to understand where our food comes from, how it is impacting our health, our land, our air and our economy."

* Jon Steinman's presentation, followed by a bilingual discussion on local food, takes place Monday at the Dieppe Market at 7 p.m. The event is free. A second event featuring Steinman is planned for Tuesday night in Sackville. Sponsored by the Fundy Biosphere Reserve, the Atlantic Canadian Organic Regional Network, Renaissance Sackville and Mount Allison University's radio station CHMA-FM, the free event takes place at the Wu Centre on the MTA campus at 7 p.m.