Since the Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society's beginnings, food security for people living in Metro Vancouver has become an important part of its mission. So what does food security mean, exactly?
For researchers, urban planners, and policy makers, food security is a catch-all term for three main aspects: food availability, food access, and food use. Food availability means having adequate supplies of food to support a population - be it a household, a city, a province, or a country - in any and all circumstances, including economic or environmental crisis. Food access is defined as having the resources to obtain safe and nutritious food to support a healthy and active lifestyle. And finally, food use is having knowledge and understanding of basic nutrition and personal care to be healthy, active, and self-sufficient.
Even though until now we have been traditionally known for providing emergency food, we realize that planning for long-term food security means highlighting and developing our other programs. That means looking for ways for food security principals to be incorporated into our daily lives.
We want our neighbours to have access to healthy foods, so we buy over 100,000 pounds per month of fresh local produce like vegetables, fruit, dairy, and eggs. Not only does this support our local farmers and food producers, it also makes sure that people in need of support from the Food Bank can enjoy a healthy and balanced diet.
We're also learning that opportunities for nutrition education are just as important as sourcing food for healthy diets. That's why we started our Downtown Eastside Community Kitchens (DECK), Fresh Choice Kitchens, and Kids' Picks programs. DECK and Fresh Choice Kitchens teach participants how to prepare and cook nutritious meals, and Kids' Picks helps school-age children learn nutrition basics by providing healthy snacks. The Greater Vancouver Food Bank Society also supports other food and nutrition education organizations; for example, La Tableé des Chefs, a Montréal-based organization that helps at-risk youth build food preparation and cooking skills, is hosted at the GVFBS headquarters every week.
In many ways, nutrition education and food use skills should be the most pressing issue in addressing food security. Having access to fresh, raw food isn't helpful to an individual's food security unless that individual knows how to use it, or has a solid understanding of what dietary factors contribute to a healthy and active lifestyle. There's truth to the adage: "If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for life." Here at the GVFBS, we want to not only give our neighbours food, we want to help our neighbours learn to prepare and cook food self-sufficiently. And hopefully, one day, Metro Vancouver will achieve total food security.
Next week, we will look at the long tradition of food preparation and cooking that has kept people around the world healthy in spite of economic and environmental conditions.