Monday, July 23, 2012

What System Do You Want to Eat From?

My latest article in The Chautauqua, sharing thoughts from my trip to Sweden and relating them to home.

I was fortunate enough to be on the road a lot in June - for work and for personal reasons.   One of the events I was fortunate to join was the Tallberg Forum in Sweden.   This forum started 30 years ago when a Swedish gentleman invited close peers together to explore the question "How on Earth can we all live together?"   Since they didn't find the answer that first year, they kept meeting.   It is now a forum of around 300 people, exploring new understandings coming from science, society, politics - looking at the big challenges of our time and seeking ideas that are holistic and continue to move us to living better on this Earth, together.  

This year's theme was technology and I was happy to see one morning group dedicated to Food.   After hearing thoughts from financiers, bureaucrats and even a farmer (imagine, listening to a farmer's thoughts!) I was getting a bit antsy.   There was a lot of talk about use of technology to make food production more efficient, productive, sustainable but it felt like we weren't really dealing with the big questions underlying the use of technology and our food system.  

The last speaker addressed this unease.   She spoke about the big choices in front of us and told the crowd that we need to be thinking about WHAT food system we want to be eating from and not just if it can feed us.   She pointed out that we are increasingly handing over the power to make decisions about what we eat and how it is produced to a small, select group that are usually physically very distant from our immediate reality.   This is a completely different food system than that which sustained us through the majority of human history.   While there is a question of how we can feed our entire population, we can not forget that we also must ask (and answer) WHAT we want to be eating and from what system.

Coming back to Canada, I heard about the recent video "Tough to Swallow" released by the AUPE that 'showcases' the food system that feeds seniors in long term care facilities in Alberta.   This video focusses specifically on the change in menu at 78 hospitals and nursing homes EACH with fewer than 125 beds -   in this video Stettler was one of the facilities visited.   The idea of a regular menu that rotates for 21 days and repeats isn't a bad idea itself.   However it goes back to the question of what system delivers that menu.   Centralizing purchasing, preparation and packaging the food was supposed to save money while still delivering 'good food.'   Health professionals in the video are speaking out because they believe the food is poor in quality: both palatability and also nutritional value.   And as for the saving money, that is also coming under question.   I am not going to tell you all the details of the video, you can watch it yourself at - what I want to do is have you pause and think about what food you want to be eating and how you would expect that food to be produced, processed and delivered to you.   And then to look around you and see if that food is what is there in our hospitals, care facilities, & schools.  

I am fortunate enough to have not spent anytime in hospitals nor have family in long term care, nor do I have children.   I do have friends who take food to their parents in long terms care because the food served is not supporting their well-being and know that locally their are mothers who are fighting school policies to change the kind of hot meals served to their children and so believe this video holds valid complaints because I have heard them first hand.  

It may be easy to dismiss these residents' complaints - if they have dementia and can't remember what they ate, why does it matter?   For me it does.     Life turns on a dime and it could easily be me or another loved one that is being served from a system that only sees value in food when it brings down budget expenses or makes the middle man a buck.    As well, I do believe that a society's values are measured by how it treats its most vulnerable and so I am picking up the phone to call Alberta Health Services Patient Services (1-855-550-2555) and to my MLA to voice my concerns and tell the government that I think this is an important issue.   I know this is a small step to take, but as a politician once told me: leaders need followers and if we expect change, we need to ask for it and give our leaders some thing to stand on and speak to.   If you care about the food system and what we are feeding our seniors, children, ourselves and don't want to see this issue buried among other youtube videos of cute kittens and bad singers, I hope you take the time to call as well.  

If anyone is interested in exploring how we can do more, together, in our community with regards to issues like this, I am always happy to connect.  You can reach me at or 4037472217.