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"Food security in spotlight" - 10.19.07
By Elliot Robins - Kootenay Western Star - October 19, 2007

NELSON — It seems the concept of sustainable food systems is gaining momentum.

Although the concept has always been around in one form or another, concerns over the relationships between peak oil, climate change, transportation and pollution have many people wondering how sustainable our current global food system really is.

“The prediction is that the global food system will no longer be viable,” said Dr. Andre C. Piver of the Kootenay Food Strategy Society.

He also mentioned 80 per cent of the cost of food is fuel.

Groups and individuals concerned with these issues have popped up across the region.

Jon Steinman, a sustainable food systems advocate, hosts a show on Kootenay Co-op Radio called Deconstructing Dinner, which examines all aspects of food security in an in-depth, intelligent manner.

“I have found myself running into many people who have read the 100 Mile book, but of whom would never have thought would be interested in the topic,” Steinman said.

“On the other hand, sustainable food systems have long been equated with ‘organic,’ and that has most definitely been in the public psyche for some time.”

Community Food Matters, a group of local food security advocates, held a well-attended conference last November and the Kootenay Food Strategy Society will host the Future of Food in the Kootenays Conference in Nelson on Nov. 13 and 14.

The event has some big-name sponsors behind it: The BC Ministry of Agriculture, the Regional District of Central Kootenay and Columbia Basin and Trust to name a few.

Food security: what is it?

While there are many definitions, the Food and Agriculture Organization defines food security as the state in which, “…all people, at all times, have access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

100 Mile Diet authors in Nelson

With a growing focus on local food production and consumption, the idea of the ‘100 mile diet’ has also gained popularity. The idea is inspired by James MacKinnon and Alisa Smith’s book, The 100 Mile Diet: A Year of Local Eating. The couple spoke in Nelson on a recent tour through B.C.

“We started wondering, ‘is it even possible to eat local this day in age?’ ” Smith said.

The couple had long been aware of facts and figures regarding modern food systems, such as the one that states that the typical ingredient in a meal travels more than 2,500 km from farm to plate.

“Not even the numbers captured how absurd the food system has become,” Smith said.

They began to consider their own impact on the overall state of the planet and considered steps they could take to help.

MacKinnon suggested they try eating only foods within a 160-km radius of their Vancouver apartment.

“I was quite surprised when he sprung this idea upon me,” Smith said.

Swept up by the earnestness of their ideals, the couple took the plunge in the spring of 2005.

“The first salad we had that year was the chickweed we picked from around the garden,” Smith said. “Then we had about six weeks of borscht.”

Neither MacKinnon nor Smith hid the fact the year-long experiment caused incredible strain on their relationship. Through all their domestic trials, the couple grew more self reliant as their need for manufactured goods dwindled.

“I learned how to make bread,” Smith said. “James learned how to make pasta from scratch and we realized how much better they tasted than the store-bought versions.”

MacKinnon said they started encountering all sorts of new foods — odd delicacies no one had heard of like pumpkin honey.

“It was the best year of eating we ever had,” MacKinnon said.

“It was also the most diverse,” he said, adding, “the UN says we’ve lost 90 per cent of our crop diversity in the last century.”

Although their experiment has ended, they claim that local foods comprise of 85 per cent of their diet.

The Future of Food in the Kootenays Conference

“100 years ago, we [the Kootenays] were net exporters of foods,” said Dr. Piver.

While the Kootenays now imports much more than it exports, the region’s temperate climate and reasonably long growing season give Nelson councillor Gord McAdams cause for hope.

“We have some of the biggest opportunities in the province to be a bit more self reliant,” he said.

As for some regional solutions to food security issues, radio host Steinman said the upcoming conference is a big step toward tackling the issues.

“I think it’s first crucial to suggest, and be quite blunt at doing so, that if you’re not concerned about the state of our food supply, then you’re not paying enough attention,” he said.

The Future of Food Conference will feature two days of keynote speakers and workshops at the Prestige Inn in Nelson.

For more information and to register online, visit



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