I saw her as rich and sophisticated. She saw me as well fed and wildly free.
I was visiting with my cousin who had lived her childhood and most of her adult life in the city. We were talking about food and she mentioned how poor they were — with so many limits on their meals.
I did a double take. Poor?
What I saw was a lovely home, beautiful clothes, access to events and a life of ease. Whereas my upbringing was one of work, discipline, hand-me-downs, no way to get to town and no money to spend if you did.
How could she claim to be poor?
Further into the discussion I realized that like many folks who do not have space to grow food, she actually envied our rich diets of farm-fresh veggies, fresh baked goods, copious amounts of eggs, meat, berries, milk, cream and preserves that seemed limitless in supply. She spoke of her childhood meals of noodles and ketchup or maybe just noodles.
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It was true that we lived with food abundance but Mother also was enslaved to an acre of garden. Making the decision to buy store-bought grocery items, like noodles or ketchup, always took deep consideration. For us eating a whole loaf of homemade bread after school smothered in butter and honey or jam was the norm, and simply tide us over until the roast with all the fixings was served.
In the end we survived and thrived, although we always believed we were less well off than our city cousins.
In reality, both families had their own struggles to feed and clothe children. But neither of our families were poor, we just had access to different things.
On the farm we often do not see or know the struggle of those who live in the city. Not until I lived in the town did I realize how it was to feel like something deep and meaningful was truly missing. I could not just pull a carrot or walk down to one of my three previous freezers for a tenderloin. I felt cramped and disconnected from my very roots — the roots that fed me.
We must consider consumers when we grow, prepare and present products. Today, many urban families on limited income still default to noodles and ketchup. How can we in food production, as part of the whole of society encourage and supply an affordable and nutritious diet? And, what does that look like?
Would a strong domestic food policy drive commodity prices down or could we open a domestic market that has a long runway and is affordable to all without jeopardizing the livelihood of farmers?
Is access to balanced and culturally appropriate nutrition tied to wage parity, infrastructure, income, location, class, mobility or education? I would argue that it is all of the above.
Food security is really the access to nutritious and appropriate food regardless of the extenuating circumstances. That means meeting dietary and cultural needs, and also having kids eat what their parents are familiar with and actually know how to cook.
It never ceases to amaze me that there are no recipes with food. A young person raised on ketchup may not know the taste or benefit of a tomato, prepared with a pepper, a slice of carrot and a protein with a touch of basil that is served on a potato. Nor can they know if they are not taught at home, at school, in the community or by industry.
And here is where the industry of agriculture might want to start — with educating children and young adults on how to make meals that can be prepared easily and on a budget.
It takes a special social media presence to teach and that is where agriculture may have fallen short. We simply cannot underestimate the intelligence of a child or not consider their role in our industry as working adults.
It starts with understanding the role of agriculture in ensuring food is both available and affordable. Those beginnings are not in competing at the shelf between commodities but with a Canadian wage parity policy and investment in a fully functioning delivery infrastructure. Primarily, people need to be able to access and afford food. With Canada’s food-insecure population jumping to 14.6 per cent that translates into one in seven persons, who perhaps live on noodles and ketchup.
I think of the outdoor industry and the military that depend on high-nutrition packaged meals. Investing in technology to do further processing of fresh food, such as freeze-drying, reduces waste and makes nutrition available — although not yet affordable. We have the power to change that.
It is a long runway to change habits, to inform, to create and to invest in new technology. But the taxi is always longer than the takeoff. So perhaps as an industry that is foundational to the future of food, we might want to look a little higher than noodles and ketchup toward a future of food security for all.