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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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"Do you know where your dinner came from?" - 03.01.07
By Meghan Cumby - Here New Brunswick

You probably don't assume the hamburgers and eggs you eat or the milk and orange juice you drink just appeared out of thin air. But when you're having dinner, do you consider the trip that food took and what impact you're having on the world?

Jon Steinman hopes he'll get you thinking about it.

His radio show Deconstructing Dinner began broadcasting on Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson, British Columbia. CHSR 97.9FM began airing the program last month for Fredericton listeners 2-3 p.m. on Mondays.

The idea for Steinman's radio show was "an evolution." He was studying hotel/restaurant management at the University of Guelph. Steinman found a disconnect between his school and the agricultural school, which was on the same campus - there was no interaction between the two.

"To me it was startling to hear people being bread to be restaurant management and having no connection to where the food was coming from," Steinman said.

Steinman began cooking in a restaurant where the chef had a conscious approach to sourcing food in the restaurant. The chef employed someone called a forger who worked with local farmers to have them grow the food the restaurant needed.

"I really got a sense of community," said Steinman. "I looked at the restaurant as a microcosm of what a city or town could be." He said mainstream restaurants haven't adopted this system. They just fill out order forms from big food distribution companies.

"They're sourcing their ingredients wherever they get the cheapest price." Steinman said he was surprised the stories about where food came from or the practices in the food industry were underrepresented in the media.

"I saw it as a crisis that needed to be addressed," he said. "From there I chose to recreate the media instead of criticizing it."

And so, Deconstructing Dinner was born. It began broadcasting in January 2006. The program has since been added to the schedules of 13 Canadian radio stations and a few American ones as well. It's also available as a podcast on the Internet.

"Almost every few weeks, another station adds it to its weekly schedule," said Steinman.

Steinman is the full-time host and producer. He has correspondents and volunteers who help him gather interviews and conferences from across the country.

One of his most recent topics include agribusiness in Canada. One of the focuses of that program was an American company who controls 50 per cent of the beef in Canada. Steinman looked into how that affects consumers, farming, and health. The company also operates all over the world, Steinman says, with plenty of influence.

"What else are Canadians supporting by putting money in the pockets of these companies?"

Another show was called Deceivable Dairy where Steinman took his listeners behind the scenes of the milk industry, showing them what happens to that glass Canadians drink.

"It's often looked at as a healthy, wholesome glass of milk," he said. But Steinman says cows are fed improper food (grain with supplements instead of grass) or the politics of the milk industry (who controls how much milk is produced and the price farmers get).

"These things we don't know when we pick up a carton of milk or a stick of cheese." Steinman always provides his listeners with links to articles and reports and organizations related to each show.

"I always encourage listeners to explore those topics, explore how to become involved."

He said that's something missing in the mainstream media.

He once saw a 10 minute documentary on the CBC on genetically modified food, which he said did a fantastic job of approaching the industry from every angle. But at the end, Steinman said there were no resources or direction given to the viewer for them to follow up on their research.

"It was basically [saying] 'Your food is genetically modified,' and that was it." Steinman says everyone from friends and family to people all over the States and Canada have responded well to the show. People have sent e-mails saying they are going to switch the types of food they buy, or start food activist groups.

"Really that's what I intended for the show - that people use it as a resource for their community," he said.

"The program isn't just about listening for that one hour"... it's also about becoming active in the issues."


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