On February 10, Food Matters Manitoba brought together a restaurateur, a medical doctor, a landscape architect, and an anthropology professor to discuss the future of food in our city. The aim was to start a conversation and motivate attendees to look beyond their plates to consider the value, security, and sustainability of our food.
More than just the calories, carbs and proteins that fuel our bodies each day, food is a social connecting point, a cultural foundation, and an artistic expression. It manifests in nearly every aspect of our lives, affecting how we live, work and play. We can’t live without it and yet as a society we’re gradually becoming disconnected from it.
Each an expert in their field, panelists were asked to give their opinion on topics related to our food and what can be done to ensure a healthy future.
Take a look at the highlights below for an overview of the topics discussed. Note that panelists' talking points have been paraphrased and condensed for clarity.
How is Winnipeg doing when it comes to issues of food, what are the good things and what are we doing wrong?
People are being more thoughtful when thinking about their food. The number of independently owned restaurants is growing, and people are getting to eat more intentional foods.
There are people putting a massive amount of thought, effort and money into producing products that are good for you and delicious and the opposite of factory farms, that, ideally you would want to feed your family.
Owners of small family farms are constantly running uphill. There are still licensing issues creating challenges for many farmers, preventing people from accessing their products.
There have been a lot of positive strides in the healthcare system and we’re seeing a trend towards care teams that include nutritionists and dieticians. There is a stronger focus on holistic healing in the healthcare system. From a research perspective, we have a rich source of public health data, allowing us to make informed decisions and evaluate public health.
We need to develop more primary care networks. The model of having one general physician is problematic. There’s no way one physician can do all those jobs.
There are a lot of strong, entrenched opinions regarding what’s healthy and what’s not, but there isn’t a one-size-fits-all strategy.
There is a prevalence of diabetes and dialysis in our province, which is expensive on the healthcare system and could be preventable with the right resources and preventative measures.
We still have a lot of work to do on the clinical side as far as incorporating nutritionists.
There’s a lot of creativity in the food service industry and the food creation industry. We’re starting to get a really creative generation that’s moving in and moving things forward. The fact that there’s a restaurant in the middle of the Red River right now alone is mind-boggling, it activates a space that is typically ‘dead’ even in the summer months.
Initiatives like CitiGrow are developing urban agriculture sites and activating landscapes, such as at The Forks where the produce grown is sold back to Inn at the Forks and they use it in the food they make – we have a lot of great things happening at that level.
Often we’re waiting for something to happen to help others. As a city, we rely on volunteers to take initiative, and sometimes the City needs to step forward and support initiatives that could turn unused land into productive pieces of land.
Within the city, Neechi Commons is helping connect communities to their food and support indigenous food sovereignty.
Rather than getting stuck in the quagmire of food security or food insecurity we need to do something more meaningful, such as highlighting the connection between food and culture.
What are some of the things that you would like to see us do in Winnipeg especially?
We need to look at some of the rules and regulations that are creating barriers for small farmers and preventing them from connecting to restaurants and the public. The people instilling the rules and regulations aren’t always as knowledgeable as they could be in specific areas
There are very generic things out there that we can do on a policy level. I’d like to see recommendations around things like carb intake and sodium intake. We need to do what we can to prevent downstream complications like dialysis.
Give people access to resources so that they can make choices because they’re practical, not because they are forced to.
Until we have someone who’s actively engaged within the city administration it’s going to be tough to move things forward.
To talk about lacking a large grocery store as a reason why we don’t have people living downtown is an excuse. We have resources available like Young’s Market or Foodfare, but we’re used to living in a society that goes to Costco once a month, so it’s a bit of a lifestyle shift and a mind shift.
Until the city buys into things we’re going to be relying on volunteers. Volunteers are great and we should use them, but we need policies to support effective changes.
How do we strengthen the link between indigenous people and food?
The first thing is the issue of access. The next step is engagement.
A lot of the time indigenous people have access to cultural food, but they don’t know what to do with it. Urban indigenous people have become de-skilled, so we’re trying to up-skill them.
Cooking classes alone don’t work; it has to be more meaningful. If there’s a cultural intention behind preparing food it gives people more sovereignty over what they’re putting in their mouths.
Participants felt that their consciousness had shifted; they felt connected to their food in a way they never had been before.
Is there something small and practical, a first step on the city side that we can do right now to start this process?
It comes down to education. There’s so much misinformation about food. Information is coming from so many different places that people get confused. We need to cut through that.
Education is the biggest thing. There are a lot of things we can do at the school level, like integrating food into the curriculum so it’s not just about sports and learning, it’s about healthy living and active lifestyles.
There’s an intergenerational gap for knowledge transmission. We need to recognize that our older generations have a great deal of knowledge that often our kids are losing out on.
The Restaurateur – Talia Syrie
Talia is the owner of The Tallest Poppy, a newly relocated Winnipeg diner that focuses on sustainable, intentional foods. Previously, she assisted with the start up of Neechi Commons Come ‘N Eat Café.
The Doctor – Paul Komeda
Paul is the Director of Research at Seven Oaks General Hospital. He specializes in nephrology – kidney function – and is Medical Director of the home hemodialysis program at Seven Oaks. He’s also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Manitoba.
The Architect – Bob Somers
Bob is a landscape architect with Scatliff + Miller + Murray, an urban design company based here in Winnipeg. The company focuses on revitalizing urban areas through sustainable development, including native plant revegetation.
The Professor – Jaime Cidro
Jaime is an assistant professor in the Anthropology Department at The University of Winnipeg. She specializes in indigenous health issues and accessing traditional foods in urban areas. She is also the Associate Director of the Urban Aboriginal Knowledge Network Prairie Research Centre and has led several projects on inner city food security in Winnipeg.