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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Weekly Column

June 17, 2008


Deconstructing Dinner


Why Deconstruct Dinner?

At 100 episodes old, Deconstructing Dinner encourages everyone to become a 'food citizen'.


Jon Steinman


On Thursday June 17, Deconstructing Dinner celebrated its 100th episode. The show first began airing on Canadian radio stations in January 2006.

Episode number one was titled "Why Deconstruct Dinner?". This question was posed to seven British Columbians involved in food security and food localization work around the province.

At 100 episodes old, it now seems fitting to look back on episode number one and capture some of the ideas that first laid the groundwork for this syndicated media project.

Deconstructing Dinner was launched in part to explore more democratic food systems than exist today, and it was during that first episode when it was suggested that food does not belong in the same circles as other commodities and political processes.

Of particular interest were the comments that addressed the relationship between democracy and food.

The word "democracy" has become so loosely defined, that, along with "freedom" and "liberty", "democracy" seems to have become a seasoned resident among the list of endangered words. Author Theodore Roszak once wrote; "Many words have become so denatured that they do more to becloud than to clarify."

When taking apart our food as an example, it becomes clear that the relationship between food and democracy is just as cloudy as the word itself has now become.

The recent rejecting of a federal bill to label foods containing genetically engineered ingredients was a sign of how undemocratic our food now is. While it was clear to all MPs that Canadians were overwhelmingly demanding to know what's in our food, 156 MPs nevertheless opposed the bill.

We exercise our right to eat and feed ourselves a few times daily, however, in a society that places corporate interests on the same democratic playing field as the general public, has food become less democratic than it once was, and could food become more democratic than it is today?

In response to this question, guests on episode one introduced the concept of food sovereignty. This concept proposes reclaiming easy access to food and seeks to redefine the role food plays within our homes and communities. On episode one, it was suggested that through the process of deconstructing our food system, we could then arrive at this idea of food sovereignty, or food democracy.

 "If we take apart and analyze our food, we might then start to recognize the value of food in our lives," said Public Health Nutritionist, Barbara Seed, a guest on the inaugural broadcast.

While purchasing organic or local foods may indeed be a positive step towards supporting a sustainable food system, Seed looked past this altered state of consuming. "We need to move ourselves beyond the idea of being just passive food consumers where our power is based on the idea of accepting or rejecting certain products, and really, that's a false sense of power anyway," said Seed. "We need to move to the idea of being food citizens, where we take an active role in determining how our food system is shaped. This moves us towards the idea of food democracy, where we have rights and responsibilities in relation to our food supply."

Also lending their voice was Gwen Chapman, an Associate Professor at the University of British Columbia's Faculty of Land and Food Systems. She suggested that organic or nutritional-based food choices are an "individual matter instead of recognizing that the whole food system is shaping those choices." She added that "by deconstructing dinner, if we get a better understanding of where the food is coming from and why we're making these [food] choices; that may help us to not only change our individual choices, but work in ways to change the food system so it becomes easier to have a more healthful, sustainable, and socially-just diet."

The organic movement as an example has clearly had a positive impact. This movement has now led us down the road to the idea of local food, where supporting neighbourhood or regional farmers has become more than just a trend, but a meaningful way of life.

However, at this current juncture between organic and local, we can now begin to recognize how labored the process is to source these foods, and how demanding it has become for Canadian farmers to earn a living wage. Perhaps as the first episode of Deconstructing Dinner suggested, food can now be understood as more than just a product, but as a democratic right and a very part of the fabric that makes us human.

Cathleen Kneen is the Editor of The Ram's Horn and Chair of Food Secure Canada. She lent her voice to episode one.

To best summarize this urgency to take apart our food, Kneen referred to Socrates who once professed; "The unexamined life is not worth living." Kneen on the other hand suggested; "The unexamined meal is not worth eating."

Deconstructing Dinner is heard on radio stations across Canada and is available as a Podcast. Episode number one has been archived at (





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