Today, October 16th is World Food Day. Its purpose is increasing awareness of, and action around, the impact hunger has on health and development locally and globally. Food security, or consistent access to affordable and nutritious food, has a significant impact on health and ability to participate in daily activities (self care, school, work, providing care for family). Food insecurity (and the hunger and malnutrition that go with it) are major barriers to success: students with empty bellies or poor nourishment are less likely to achieve academically, and the same goes for their parents’ ability to participate in the workforce or provide proper care for themselves and their families. This is true of people living in the world of fast food, convenience stores and grocery stores and people living in places where there are limited ways to access food. While some people have too much unhealthy food, others don’t have enough (as author Raj Patel puts it, people are alternately stuffed full of nothing good and starved from even basic nutrition). (In Canada and the US, grocery stores are commonly most accessible by middle and upper class people, leaving those living in poverty with less access to healthy food geographically too.)
Poverty, climate change, and global economic and trade policies are just some of the factors linked to hunger. People living in poverty cannot afford healthy, nutritious food and end up eating poorly, and/or relying on food banks, which are often unable to meet demand, and rarely are provide fresh produce, meat and dairy. In developing countries, people also often lack money to purchase food. Climate change is also making it harder to access healthy food: it is changing migration habits of animals that Aboriginal and Inuit people hunt for food and income, as well as altering weather and climate and adversely affecting food production. Global economic and trade policies mean that in many places, food imported from Europe and North America is cheaper than locally grown food as a result of subsidies…and that processed, imported foods are being favoured over ‘real’ food. The overproduction of food in Europe and North America due to subsidies is actually the genesis of the food aid- surpluses created by subsidies for producers in rich countries get shipped to places without enough food, instead of encouraging local and sustainable food production.
These forces combined are threatening the concept of food sovereignty, in which individuals have the right to culturally appropriate, healthy and nutritious food of their choice. That means knowing where your food comes from, what is in it (genetic modifications, for example?) and being able to choose it yourself (whether growing or purchasing it). This includes the right t to local food options instead of leftovers from other countries.
Despite the Millennium Development Goal to halve the proportion of people who suffer from hunger, 195 million children (many of whom receive food aid) are malnourished. The food that is given as part of food aid often doesn’t meet basic nutritional requirements. Médecins sans Frontières (MSF, or Doctors Without Borders) is calling for the world to ‘rewrite the story’ of malnutrition. Their open letter to t he Canadian government calls for committing to providing nutritionally sound food aid, rather than just the basics t hat relieve hunger while leaving children malnourished. One way you can help is signing the petition to encourage government action.
Start by thinking about and learning your own food… what is in it? Where does it come from? Does it matter? Making good food choices for you and your family is a great place to start food activism. Vote with your dollars, your vote and your voice.