Column by Kenda MacLellan
© Submitted photo
Elliott MacLellan enjoys a Gravenstein apple, an item that would be considered a luxury in any households in Colchester County.
Editor’s note: Kenda MacLellan is passionate about food security. Watch for her four-part series on the topic weekly in the Truro Daily News and on trurodaily.com.
My grandson, Gabe, picked the apple I’m eating off a tree in an orchard, down a winding road. He wasn’t the best picker, but he was the most enthusiastic.
As soon as Gabe picked the apples, grandson Elliott provided quality control by testing a few bites of any apple that rolled his way. When our bags were full of juicy Gravensteins, we boarded the wagon that would take us back to the cars and home from the Valley.
Neither boy, ages three and one respectively, knew the significance of this agricultural act of independence. Words like affordable, healthy, organic or local are not in their vocabulary, although their parents wrestle with balancing these priorities on their weekly grocery lists.
They are fortunate that ‘affordable’ and ‘healthy’ are available to them. For many families, sugary pop trumps apple juice at the checkout, and fresh apples are a luxury.
Food security, says the UN council on agriculture, exists when “ all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active, healthy life.”
Other definitions include “… without resorting to emergency food supplies, scavenging, stealing and other coping strategies.”
Many believe we are only food secure if the food is produced and distributed in ways that are environmentally sound, socially just and sustainable.
A short conversation with the staff of either the Colchester Food Bank or the Salvation Army Food Bank would tell us that food insecurity is a real problem in our region.
Growing numbers of first–time users have been reported as individuals find themselves working two jobs at minimum wage without benefits. Food insecurity leads to less nutritious food choices, chronic disease, less productivity and increased absences from work; children display an inability to concentrate well in school, which can lead to lower marks, fewer options after graduation, and continued reliance on emergency food systems.
Am I being dramatic?
The 2008 Nova Scotia Participatory Food Security Project highlighted the difference between available food dollars and the real cost of food in Nova Scotia communities. The National Nutritious Food Basket, a list of 66 foods widely available in Canadian stores, was used as a guide with participants polling grocery stores throughout the province.
In the Colchester East Hants Health Authority, the average cost was $671.02 per month. The project further itemizes the income versus expenses of various family groups in different financial situations and what they would have left for food after fixed expenses.
In a family of four with two adults and two children, the family with a median family income of $63,900 would have $2,269.65 available for groceries. A family with one adult working fulltime and one part-time, both at minimum wage, would have $539.10 left for food. A single mother with four children living on income assistance has only $108.85 left in her purse for a food basket that should cost her $606.59. Standing beside this mother at the food bank would be a single, female senior living on Old Age Security and CPP. After her bills were paid, she would have $29.09 for a cart worth $163.03.
They say numbers don’t lie, but numbers don’t move us like the personal stories of those who are faced with choosing between rent and food. During the next three weeks we will be looking at challenges and successes of local families who are making choices out of necessity, or based on environmental and social justice principles.
We will look at innovative programs that build community and seat everyone around the same table. Picking apples, breaking bread or pickling cucumbers can be agricultural acts that do more than fuel us - they nourish us.
Truro resident Kenda MacLellan is a community food mentor and a board member of the Living Earth Council. She has broad experience with food programs and would like to see communities come together around the table to find creative ways to be well fed.