The new food mail

With report after report linking healthy eating to everything from disease prevention, maintaining a  healthy body weight and success in school, its no wonder that for Nunavummiut throughout the territory, the cost and availability of food is one of their biggest worries.  Its expensive, its not always fresh and not always available – the realities of fly-in communities means food only comes as often as the planes.

 I’ve blogged about the prices of food in Cambridge Bay (and do promise to blog about food prices in Iqaluit soon!) and we’ve all agreed food in grocery stores is expensive…

 But, there are other options.  Like sealift orders, where you bulk purchase non-perishable items and ship them up on a ship during the few months of water access. And there’s also food mail – a program whereby you shop (mostly for perishable items) via the flyer, place an order, some kind ladies in Montreal take the products off the shelf for you, pack them in a box and send to you via Canada Post.  Its almost like grocery delivery service, but not quite, because it still takes a couple days to get here.  Its touch and go – sometimes the produce is great, other times you wish you hadn’t.  Since I’m only eating for one, food mail hasn’t made a lot of sense for me.  My one and only food mail experience was piggy-backed off my roommate and wasn’t exactly smooth.  Let’s just say I ended up with a lot of really, really expensive chocolate chips.

 The shipping of food mail is subsidized by the government (to the tune of nearly $60 million).  Or was.  Last week, there was change to the program announced by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada here in Iqaluit.

 The new program, known as Nutrition North Canada, shifts the subsidy from Canada Post directly to retailers.  Grocery stores will receive money to subsidize transportation costs (thank you, taxpayers of Canada) but in order to qualify, they will have to prove that they are passing cost-savings on to consumers – and that the food they are purchasing is actually being sold.  The subsidy is two-tiered, with the healthiest foods qualifiying for greater subsidies.  also reflect actual shipping costs – so retailers in Grise Fiord are going to receive more money than those in Iqaluit.

The hope is that retailers will now have an incentive to get perishable items on the shelves quickly so that consumers will be eager to buy.  They will have to work with their distributors to make sure that fresh food gets here while its still fresh. And, if the distributors aren’t delivering, retailers will be looking for other options. 

Despite speculation, all retailers will be eligible to apply for the subsidy – not just the bigger corporate chains. This is great news as it allows for food mail, as well as gives consumers choice about whether or not to buy from locally-owned grocers.

The other kink to be worked out is country food.  A healthy and traditional part of northern diets, the availability of country food is sporadic and ever-changing (also the subject of a future blog post).  Sometimes, individuals in a community want to send their friends or family somewhere else country food they caught…and this program doesn’t cover that.  It does however cover corporate country food distributors.

In any case I’m optimistic…market-driven solutions aren’t always my first choice, but this one sounds like it has a lot of potential.

Further reading:
*Ottawa to new Arctic food subsidy plan
*Editorial: New food subsidy: watch out for details