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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Nelson Daily News

"Dinner for 100"
In an effort to educate and inform locals about the food they eat, Jon Steinman has grown Deconstructing Dinner into a major player in the debate across Canada and the globe

Nelson Daily News - 06.18.08
The Weekender - 07.04.08
By Timothy Schafer

He started with a germ of an idea in Nelson that has taken root around the world.

Extolling the virtues of locally produced food, the economic spin-offs and the deleterious effects of industrialized food production and genetically modified food, Jon Steinman has been a voice of reason for many people around the world.

Radio stations across North America, Australia, New Zealand and England have taken to the words of the Nelsonite, the host and creator of Deconstructing Dinner.

The show has delivered its message on Kootenay Co-op Radio (93.5 FM) for two-and-a-half years, now broadcasting to several thousand people per day on the internet (www.cjly.net/deconstructingdinner), 28 stations across Canada, nine in the U.S. and countless more in Europe.

On Thursday, 6-7 p.m., Deconstructing Dinner celebrates its 100th episode, giving itself a longevity nod to a show that is viewed by industrialized food companies as a weed. What one considers a weed another considers a flower, and the show has been wholly embraced as flower in Nelson.

Steinman initially embraced Nelson three years ago; arriving impressed with everything that was going on here with localized food, and the resourcefulness of the people regarding their food choices.

In his show Steinman relays to listeners much of what is happening in Nelson, hoping to make the knowledge and inspiration accessible to people in other communities. His show has been one of the best drawing cards for in-migration of people, causing people from all over Canada and the U.S. to make the pilgrimage here.

"I saw there were things that needed to be shared outside of the community, but also encourage more projects to build awareness throughout community and area," he said.

"I just wanted to encourage people to start questioning how they need to live."

His questioning has led to activism. Deconstructing Dinner is not such a radio show anymore, but more of an organism. Steinman has become involved in Soil Matters CSA, Kootenay Grain Cooperative (community supported agriculture), Community Food matters and the Kootenay Country Store Co-operative.

And having an archive of almost 100 shows on the website -- along with a developing directory of resources --Deconstructing Dinner is forming a resource for any community in the world to create this for themselves, said Steinman.

His greatest success so far has been helping with the formation of the Grain CSA in Nelson and Creston -- putting farmers back in touch with the people who buy the produce.

But he isn't sitting on his laurels. On July 10 he will be engaging the region with a G-Free Kootenay campaign, aimed at eradicating genetically modified crops from the West Kootenay.

The show is now at a stage where it is maximizing its ability to provide the rich, engaging content it is noted for. Steinman said he would need a staff -- handling marketing, research and regional reporting -- to expand the show's format.

Nor does he have the resources to sit back and produce the shows. Instead, he is looking at advancing his syndicated column, organizing a food security traveling conference to bring resources and ideas to other communities, and arranging a speaking tour.

He is quickly becoming a keynote speaker himself, having fulfilled the role at the recent Sierra Club Climate Change Film Series in Vancouver.

Growing up the younger of two children in the Steinman family in Toronto's north end, he didn't come across his concern for the way our food was delivered, and our disconnect to it, until he was in university.

He studied Hotel and Food administration at the University of Guelph, along with philosophy, critical thinking and Chinese philosophy.

At the time his relationship to food was standard for a university student: Kraft Dinner.

"But it was gourmet Kraft Dinner," he countered with a smile, using herbs and half-and-half cream to enliven the meal.

One of his professors put questions in his mind about where food comes from, and the thoughts stayed with him.

When he graduated he worked for two years in the industry in the Niagara region in Ontario, spent a year in France, and then traveled West to Nelson for a brief skiing stop before landing at the Okanagan's Mission Hill establishment.

It was there he saw how much of an effect one restaurant could have on the local economy by buying local. If it could work with one restaurant, why couldn't it work on a larger scale, he thought. That it wasn't working, that there were barriers to farmers, irked him.

When he moved to Nelson he began to throw around the idea to present some of the problems farmers had with respect to earning a living, producing quality food and making their produce accessible.

He wondered why high quality, local food was restricted only to those of the elite, moneyed classes, and why food wasn't seen as the large part of culture it was.

"So instead of criticizing the media I decided to become the media," he said.

The show hasn't changed much since the first day KCR allowed Steinman on the airwaves. His content focus has narrowed the range of topics he examines, covering them in depth, sometimes over the course of several shows. As a result, series such as the 100-Mile Diet, the Grain CSA, the farm income crisis and genetic engineering were born and have proven to be some of the show's most popular moments.

Working with more heart, talent and vision than financial wherewithal, Steinman has managed to craft a show that is the model for engaged journalism and independent media in Canada. Other stations have contacted him for advice on what it takes to produce and create such a show. He is now in the process of putting it into a manual format, devising a workshop on how to create radio documentaries for a small station in Lillooet.

That is a nod to Steinman, considering he is completely self taught, both on the radio production end of things and in his journalistic craft. Putting in 50-hour weeks and much of your savings does tend to focus one's attention and learn the matter at hand, though.

"Now I am at the point the show needs to sustain itself, but also to recoup my investment in the show," he said.

Sponsors such as Ryerson University, The Kootenay Co-op, combined with fundraising efforts such as the sale of CDs of the show, paid writing and speaking gigs, all add to the bottom line to keep the show going, he said.

It's not just about food, he said, it's about well being, connecting with food on a more spiritual level, appreciating its gift of nourishment and the sustenance it provides.

"I believed from the beginning that this needs to be out there. It's something that needs to be presented to people ... because this is a subject people have not really grasped into," he said.

"The show teaches people on a personal level because it's talking to them about their food."

DECONSTRUCTING MANTRA
Deconstructing Dinner has been designed to dispense and discuss current food issues. The program assists listeners in making more educated choices when purchasing food either for the kitchen or at restaurants.

A lifestyle of convenience leaves very little time to reflect on the history behind the food we purchase and the impact these purchases have on ourselves, communities, and the well being of this planet.

There are countless numbers of individuals, groups, non-governmental organizations, educational institutions, businesses, and branches of government that are pushing towards creating more sustainable food systems.

Deconstructing Dinner reports on current issues throughout the world of food, with a primary focus on local, regional and provincial issues.

The show is not restricted to only current affairs, but probes into the processes and actions to which we have all become so accustomed throughout our daily routine, and "deconstructs" them to achieve a more discriminating awareness.

Source" Deconstructing Dinner website
Credit: Nelson Daily News

(Copyright 2008 Nelson Daily News)


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