Dr. Nettie Wiebe

Dr. Nettie Wiebe

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November 28, 2011
KIPLY LUKAN YAWORSKI
PRAIRIE MESSENGER

SASKATOON – Food is not just about nutrients: it is about relationships, power and our connection to the earth, said the keynote speaker at a diocesan conference Nov. 5.

Dr. Nettie Wiebe, farmer, author and professor at St. Andrew's College at the University of Saskatchewan, gave an overview of the food system during What's On Your Plate?, a conference organized through the diocesan Office for Justice and Peace.

It is not simple to pinpoint information about where our food comes from and how it was produced and processed, said Wiebe. "On average, food travels 2,000 to 3,000 km before it gets to your plate."

The best way to know what is on our plate is to eat more products from closer to home, said Wiebe. "Those who have by far the best knowledge of what they're eating are the ones who go to the Farmer's Market and talk to the farmer."

Society has been persuaded that industrialized food production and global markets mean "cheaper" food, said Wiebe, but she urged her listeners to challenge that argument.

"Cheap is always relative. Those of us who have money in our pockets will spend 14 to 16 per cent of our disposable income on food. But for somebody who is worrying about whether they can pay the rent or buy milk, food isn't cheap."

She also questioned a definition of "cheap food" that only looks at the price, and not other costs, such as loss of nutrients or impact on the environment.

"Or when I think about the losses in our farm communities, the farm families, the livelihoods, the neighbourhoods: it is not cheap," she said of the trend to centralize food production in the hands of a few multinational corporations.

"We're awash in food," she noted. "And yet we have a food bank in places like Rosetown, which is in the middle of a very productive food growing area."

Hunger is also about who controls food and who makes decisions about it, she said.

"When we see the marketing, the land and the water being concentrated in fewer and fewer corporate hands, those are the places where the decisions around food are being made."

One way to "take back" ownership of the food system is to support local food production, small-scale farmers and local food systems, she suggested.

"If it costs a little more in dollars, it's actually costing quite a bit less in terms of ecological and economic and community damage."