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Deconstructing Dinner: Reconstructing Our Food System
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Whatís on your plate? Deconstructing Dinnerís Jon Steinman to speak at Earth Week event

As part of Earth Week festivities, the North Columbia Environmental Society will be hosting an evening featuring keynote speaker Jon Steinman, host of Deconstructing Dinner, a weekly radio program recorded in the studios of Kootenay Co-op Radio in Nelson.

Focusing on current food issues, Deconstructing Dinner helps listeners make educated food choices and explores a full range of food-related topics from the farm to the fork.

The show has been a hit since it first aired in 2006, and is now broadcast by 38 different radio stations across North America and overseas.

The Times Review spoke with Steinman to ask him about the show and what heíll be talking about when he comes to Revelstoke.

Appetizers featuring locally produced foods will be served at the event, which takes place this Saturday, April 24 at the Revelstoke Community Centre starting at 7 p.m. $8 suggested donation.

Aaron Orlando, Revelstoke Times Review: Deconstructing Dinner has experienced very rapid growth in your radio broadcast reach and has enjoyed a positive popular response in just over a few years. Why do you think the show has resonated with so many?

Jon Steinman: The show started airing in early 2006 and that was right at the time when the 100 Mile Diet was also becoming a well known term, so it really dovetailed with that whole 100 Mile Diet concept to where the whole growth and interest in local food happened to be at that exact time when Deconstructing Dinner was starting. And so it was in that way a really easy access into radio stations because radio stations recognized this was a timely subject, and so within a couple of years the show was on over 30 stations.

RTR: Deconstructing Dinner certainly seems to have an agenda. Can you explain to someone who has never heard the show what that agenda is?

JS: The agenda is more or less to first deconstruct the food system and then, by doing so, try to understand how we can rebuild the food system to one that is more responsible ... Socially, environmentally and then we can really I think stretch that out to economically responsible. Just responsibility all around, which at this point when we start to look at our industrial food system itís easy to recognize that it is a pretty irresponsible food system. Especially in light of our increased awareness lately as far as the environmental impact of our food, how far our food is travelling, the process through which that food is produced and cultivated. And because of that, once we deconstruct the system we can then understand ... what is wrong with it and where can we fix it. The agenda is actually to then lead to ... how can we get involved in a new type of food system. So, the other half of the content beyond the deconstructing of the industrial food system is more or less reconstruct dinner. So half the content is looking at what projects are happening in and around mostly B.C., [and] around the world that are responding to some of the challenges of the industrial food system and the irresponsibilities of the industrial food systems.

RTR: Speaking of reconstructing dinner, on your website you quote Buckminster Fuller, who says ďIn order to change something, donít struggle to change the existing model. Create a new model and make the old one obsolete.Ē In 2010, where are we at in making that switch? The food-related issues, as you mentioned, seem to be more in the forefront of popular conscience in recent years, yet a lot things remain the same.

JS: Well thatís a good quote to bring up because I think at this point what weíve seen is we havenít heeded that advice. Weíve tried to change the food system within that same paradigm of this industrial food system that we now have, and what has resulted is for example, this new wave of organic food that we can now find on even Wal-Mart grocery shelves. What that system is essentially a replication of the industrial food system with a few different inputs along the way. But in the grand scheme of things that system isnít much more sustainable as far as I see it and many others, when you compare it to our industrial food system. What I see from my experience having done this show, just like Buckminster Fuller says, we need to start from square one so that we donít replicate the same mistakes and the same patterns that weíve already made.

RTR: Where are you suggesting we go from here for all matters related from the farm to the fork, as you say. Where do we start?

JS: I think it first needs to begin in our homes. I think thatís the most ideal way. It is so easy to see a problem and try to fix it from a top down approach and if we are going to start from the ground up, I think addressing our food choices in our home first as far as what weíre putting on our plates is the best way to begin. And from there we can also recognize the potential for each of us, so long as we have a little piece of land to grow our own food, which is something that has of course taken off in recent years in a much larger way. As well as preserving our own food at home and then reaching out to our closest neighbours in our community and start to share in the efficiencies of sharing work. I think thatís the beginning of where we need to start to reconstruct our food system. And I think when we look at some of the examples, such as that which I will be speaking of on Saturday, for example of the Kootenay Grain [Community Supported Agriculture], which I think is an amazing example of how a community of people simply got together and said here is what we want and through positive relationships with farmers, a project was created to start to generate enough grain to feed 450 families last year. And it didnít take much, but it started from the ground up, that project and it wasnít a top down approach.

RTR: Speaking of the [Kootenay Grain CSA] initiative, I canít remember where I read it, but I have heard of people whoíve moved to Nelson because they were inspired by your show and wanted to be part of the food scene there and the example youíve just talked about. Is this something youíve experienced? Have you met people whoíve told you this? And the second part of the question is how does Revelstoke become a place like that that draws that kind of enthusiasm?

JS: Well it is true that there have been quite a few people who I know have either moved here or considered moving here because of hearing of the types of local food system projects that are happening in the area by listening to the show. One woman in particular who moved here a couple of years ago moved from Seattle and she happens to be very involved in cooperative development. She had heard about our local food co-op here in Nelson, had heard about it through Deconstructing Dinner and ended up moving here and has contributed nicely to the community. There are a few other examples of that too, and certainly some people who have sent emails saying you know I am ready to move out of the United States or move out of Ontario and come out to live in Nelson, it sounds like such a great place. As far as Revelstoke being able to be that place, Revelstoke is no different than Nelson as far as being relatively close to some prime agriculture regions. In your case, I guess just looking west from Revelstoke you get into some prime agricultural land. So, I think be developing some connections with the agricultural community there, recognizing Revelstoke as a vacuum for a food system, because there is such a great concentration of people and food businesses. I think that is the first step and thatís essentially what Nelson has done. The Kootenay Co-op food store, which has been here for over 35 years in this region is a great example of a good first step that a community like Revelstoke could take by creating a business where ... everyone purchases their food, but the community is also an owner of that grocery store. Starting a co-op store can be as simple as starting a food buying club where you share in the purchasing with a community of people and thatís exactly how the Kootenay Co-op started, and thatís how many food co-ops start. I think a food co-op tends to be a good catalyst for a good healthy food system which is what Iíve noticed in many U.S. communities because there arenít a lot of food co-ops in Canada, but in the United States thereís quite a few, and those communities tend to be much more food secure than others.

RTR: I know you touched on it briefly, but exactly what are you going to be talking about when you come to Revelstoke?

JS: I will be doing really what I spoke of there as far as the agenda of Deconstructing Dinner is concerned. Weíll try to take the show and encapsulate it in just an hour. So, for the first about half of the talk will be deconstructing a standard North American meal and going through each item of that meal to reveal an interesting story behind where all that food is coming from which in this case has most likely passed through the hands of one particular company that most Canadians have never even heard of. So, that will be the first half of the talk -- a deconstructing of a meal. The second half will address, well okay, what are the problems with this deconstruction and how can we respond to them. So I will be sharing examples of how we here in the Kootenays are responding to those challenges, as well as a few examples from outside of the region.

RTR: Just one last question. For someone new to Deconstructing Dinner who is looking to get an introduction to your show ahead of your presentation on Saturday, can you recommend a top three list of your programs they could go online and listen to?

JS: I would definitely recommend checking out the local grain revolutions series, and thereís a number of episodes that can be downloaded from that page. I would definitely recommend taking a listen to some of the recent shows on Bill C-474 which is a topic I have focussed the past three weeks on, and is essentially taking a look at how food issues are getting discussed in Ottawa in the House of Commons and it reveals some pretty shocking situations of politicians who donít quite understand some of the types of foods that are being grown on the Prairies, in particular genetically engineered food, which is an ongoing subject of Deconstructing Dinner. Another series I would highly recommend is the co-operatives series, where we take a look at co-operatives as being an alternative to our industrial food system and the importance of forming food-related co-ops, whether they are grocery co-ops, or agricultural co-ops or community land trusts which can be done in a cooperative format as well.

RTR: Sorry, I promised one last question but just to touch on something you brought up there. Right when I was putting these questions together I got a press release in an email from NDP MP and Agriculture Critic and MP from your neck of the woods Alex Atamanenko who managed to get bill C-474 through Parliament, at least into committee. For someone who is not familiar with the bill, can you tell us a little bit more about your feelings about the news?

JS: Well itís definitely for those who are opponents of genetically engineered food itís quite a victory. For people who are proponents who are the developers of GMO technology it definitely seems to be a threat to their industry. I would say they believe it to be more of a threat than it really is, but at the same time what it will be assessing is the impact that introducing GMOs on farmers who donít grow GMOs, and that has been one of the largest threats at this point to many of the organic farmers in Canada who arenít able to grow organic food because of the risk of contamination from GMO varieties. So this is a bill that, now that it is going to get discusses in committee will seek to create some type of mechanism to prevent that from ever happening, which might be as serious as not permitting the introduction of a type of genetically engineered crop Ė for example genetically engineered wheat Ė which doesnít yet exist in Canada. Once thatís introduced, itís almost inevitable, no doubt, that there will be contamination with non-GE varieties, so having something in place to prevent GE wheat from ever being introduced is the intent of the bill. At this point, there isnít any mechanism to prevent that from happening. So itís a very important bill, and whether or not it will pass through committee and then get enacted I would say I am not incredibly optimistic because of how much misinformation tends to get filtered through these discussions. But if the discussion is genuine and isnít filled with industry spin, which tends to happen a lot, then perhaps something will come out of it, so that will likely happen in the fall.



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