Food For Thought

An animal who doesn’t recognize food doesn’t survive

 ~ Alexandra Morton, marine biologist at the 2013 BC Food Systems Network Gathering

The above where the words that struck me most from the food-systems gathering I attended this past weekend. Think about it: we have become so numb, that we have allowed corporations to decide what “food” is and what food we “like”. Wed blindly buy what is in the supermarkets, trusting that the government or “somebody out there” would have taken care of the quality of the products we consume and (worse) give to our children.  We happily  buy bananas and mangoes in Canada, perfect red tomatoes in December, chicken that has no bones and fish we trust is edible and safe. We no longer know who harvested our grain or who raised the meat we eat. We buy blue and pink things and give them to our children so they don’t cry…

Most human beings have an almost infinite capacity for taking things for granted.”
~ Aldous Huxley, Brave New World

July 5-7, Shawnigan Lake, BC was home of the 2013 BC Food Systems Network Gathering.

When I registered, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned about the network (and the gathering) while looking for more local information for my course on food security (the one I’m designing on Moodle but may not finish due to lack of time) and my other courses  on Environmental Studies and Climate Change and its impacts.

I wasn’t expecting it would change me so much.

The gathering started with a lunch and tour to O.U.R. Ecovillage  , where we had the opportunity to learn how this wonderful and unique sustainable project started and how it works right now. O.U.R. Ecovillage is the house of more than 60 people, teaches about natural building and Permaculture and is a living example of how humans can live in harmony with Nature, in community and following Permaculture principles.

Some surprises: Nasturtiums filled with cream cheese and herbs and a barrow full of leaves and flowers for our salad. The composting toilets weren’t something new for me, coming from South America, same with the cob houses, but it was wonderful to be able to see them here in Canada and looking so nice.

See the pictures I took here:

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That evening, we had an introduction (plenary) presented by two BCFSN members and the elders from Coast Salish territory welcomed us with prayers and songs. The whole weekend was filled with interesting workshops, presentations and roundtables to discuss projects, ideas and challenges related to food security. I learned about farm incubators and community farm land trusts and listened to the need to create more seed banks and libraries and create a succession plan so young farmers have access to land while aging farmers can retire with dignity.

I don’t have a background in biology, botany or nutrition. I don’t have studies in anthropology, sociology or social services. My involvement in all this is very new and sprouted from noticing the strong connection between food (and, in turn, human and all life fate) and all the current challenges: Climate Change, peak oil, water depletion, soil degradation, corporate power over seeds, sea life and livestock and industrial production, processing and distribution of food. But this has become the centre of my life and I am currently dedicating every “free” hour I have (when not at work or sharing with my family)

The positive things I brought with me are many: starting from seeing how many more people are dedicating their lives to ensure there is food (healthy, sustainable, organic, local, and appropriate) available to all BC residents to witnessing how these people from varied backgrounds could work together so well and listen to each other. I will also treasure how they all allowed themselves to be truly human and express emotions in ways I haven’t seen in Canada in all the nine years living here. This was inspiring and motivating.

The highlights are difficult to pick: probably listening to Alexandra Morton was one of the best moments, but it was also the visit to Cowichan Bay (North America’s First Cittaslow designated community), the already mentioned visit to Permacultural O.U.R. Ecovillage and the final farewell in a giant spiral-like hug.

It also had its downs, at least for me: I like more structured meetings, so I would suggest having a closure for each roundtable where all the ideas are distributed and summarized. I also like smaller groups, so having more opportunities for open spaces or small-scale workshops may help to make better connections and allow the shy to speak. A database or a facilitated “networking” session would have helped all to meet more people, but these are only opportunities to improve and need to be taken as the constructive feedback they intend to be.

One thing that was painful to see was that I seemed to be the only person representing Surrey and also the only one representing immigrants and refugees. This may not be true, as I didn’t have the opportunity to meet each one of the attendees, but I’m almost sure this was the case.

However, the most important piece for me was the connection with Nature in an incredibly beautiful location and the re-connection with groups working towards a goal that inspires passion. This is not a job, is a way of life…these people there were representing the many more who work endlessly so others can achieve food security.

In a way, I can say this was a life-changing event. One of those things that become a turning point beyond which your life can’t continue as it was before.

There are some times in life when we have to choose. We have to stop all and go inside ourselves for a while, assess the projects we have worked on, the choices we have made, the things we have allowed to “happen” to us, even the people we have met. And when you start seeing your life in “negative” (as “Your Money or Your Life” books suggest, seeing how many more years are “left” to live, instead of how many you have already lived), then these decisions become more important.

 “What do you fear, lady?” [Aragorn] asked.
“A cage,” [Éowyn] said. “To stay behind bars, until use and old age accept them, and all chance of doing great deeds is gone beyond recall or desire
~ J.R.R. Tolkien, The Return of the King

The economy as we knew is now gone; “sustainable growth” is an oxymoron; humans are not the owners (nor the only inhabitants) of this planet;  the lifestyles we stubbornly try to continue to live are threatened. Climate Change, water scarcity and soil degradation are real. Big companies are becoming the solely owners of productive land, tools, resources and, more importantly seeds and even the way animals reproduce and live. We are allowing ourselves to be robbed of our more basic rights, all for “dream”, a “lifestyle” that are unsustainable. The worldview needs to change, and we need to start remembering who we are and act accordingly.

We are at once the problem and the only possible solution to the problem.”
~ Michael Pollan, Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

Thanks to all the BCFSN gathering organizers and all who attended, and a big thanks to all who couldn’t attend but are working so hard to be the change that we all want to see in the world.

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