Hello and welcome to Righting Our Relations with Food, a podcast series where we meet with guests from across the country to discuss food security and food sovereignty, and how we can make changes to our food system with a focus on Canada. Righting Relations is a national network of adult educators and community organizers working for radical social change, and this series is part of a larger project on food sovereignty and the sustainable development goals. So, if you're interested in learning more, please check out our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. Today, we're excited to share with you the second part of a roundtable discussion on youth food security and intergenerational food activism. This discussion was recorded that our national Agenda 2030 Conference in March 2022, where we welcomed Brandon and Ben from Food Not Bombs Edmonton, Cassidy Daskalchuk from the University of Regina Student Union pantry, Olivia Boyce of the Brandon Manitoba Food Council, Karen Secord of the Parkdale Food Center, and Kathryn Lennon from Hungry Zine. In this episode, our guests talk about the impact that food insecurity has on young people. So with this next question, it's just thinking about, about, like the young people. And so the question that I'm asking is like, what does food security, like, how does food insecurity impact young people? So let's start off with Benjamin and Brandon.
Thank you very much. Brandon, do you want to start on this one?
Well, you're the school bus driver,
I guess. I will say, Oh, boy. I guess it depends on the large, but for me largely, what you mean by young people, when we're talking about kids, like I think it's pretty obvious that not having adequate access to food is like, obviously hugely detrimental to their health, hugely detrimental to their ability to develop and to grow. For people my age, I'm 33, Brandon's younger than me. But you know, I was in my 20s once as well. And I got married young. And so I will say, just food insecurity. Not even like, not having access to food, but not having a secure, reliable income and thus not a secure, reliable source of food is a massive stress, and keeps you from being able to do just about anything else. You know, food is one of our most basic needs. And if you don't have reliable access to food, if you don't know that next week, you're going to be able to eat, you can't do anything else. You know, I'm 33, and I drive a school bus part time. Because I spent so long in poverty, that I had to like, give up on my education, I had to give up a lot of things that I should have by rights had access to. And when I say by rights, I mean, because I'm a human being. Not because I'm special or something, but because I'm a human being, there's these things I should have by rights had access to but that I had to give up on to make sure that I could feed myself at the end of the day. So I think, and I see that all the time, when I'm helping out with FNB [Food Not Bombs]. Like a lot of the people that we work with who are unhoused or who are vulnerable. You know, there's a remarkable number of young people that we have served through our Helping the Humans program, people who have homes and no access to food, or ability to make food or to purchase groceries. And to me that's just such a, it's egregious. It's egregious that we live in one of the richest countries in the world. And yet, we can't even feed all of our people, especially our young people who theoretically are going to be the ones running this country in 10, 20, 30, 40 years. I don't know if you have anything to add, Brandon.
Yeah. The first time I ever thought seriously about hunger beyond like World Vision, advertisements on TV, or kind of like, you know, your parents telling you "Oh, eat all the food on your plate because it's children starving in Africa", and it's this far away problem, I was seven years old. Walking into the first day of third grade at little Elementary School in Cold Lake Alberta, which is this tiny little town in northern Alberta, just on the border of Saskatchewan, and the janitor at the school, out of his own pocket and with his own time, every single day, set up a little table. And he would serve breakfast to kids who came in and he never refused anybody. So it'd be like a little bowl of oatmeal or some toast. And that was really eye opening that like, this is a town like there's, there's, there's some rich kids in the town, but most of the town is not rich like these kids are, you know, they're children of people who've been deployed, they're children of an impoverished Indigenous community, they're children of service workers, they're not necessarily going to come to school having already had breakfast. So, you know, as you get older, you, I got a broader understanding of these issues. And really thinking about like, okay, what are what are the consequences of malnutrition? On the development of a child? We're not even thinking about malnutrition, but what kind of food are they eating, even if they're getting all of their nutritional value, right? If they're eating exclusively industrialized, high sugar, content, food, they're going to have severe dental problems, and those severe debt problems are going to lead to severe respiratory problems, right, and severe heart disease issues. And, you know, potentially, they're going to suffer from obesity or other forms of malnutrition, right? So, you know, when it when it comes to those issues, it's not just enough to, you know, throw somebody a can of beans and say, Okay, well, this contains all the sodium and all the vitamin A and all the iron that you need, so don't bother me anymore. You really need to think about it on the level of this is a community of people, do they have the actual control over their political and economic and social lives, to really be able to feed themselves reliably without having to rely on entities that can take it away, like corporations or governments?
Thank you, so much. And Kathryn?
So our work is not so frontline, as like my amazing colleagues on this panel. So we're not directly involved in providing food or meals to people. But I think it's a really good question. I think that that question makes me think about the future and climate change and sort of, so maybe not like emergency food access, and like direct kind of like day to day meals, in terms of food insecurity, but thinking kind of long term, and just how our food systems are changing, and how that affects like food sovereignty, you know, in whatever ways you need to access food, agriculture, hunting, gathering, fishing, all these systems. So I think about that I have a one year old and so just thinking about, yeah, how things are going to shift in his lifetime. That's definitely on my mind. And then I think another another big one is, you know, just I think we really need school food programs in Canada, you know, Canada, we don't have a national school food program or policy. And there's a lot of other countries around the world where it's amazing, like kids learn, like food skills in school, they get like hot meals like that, you know, that they know they're going to eat at school. And there's also the social and the relationship, relationship aspects to that. So I think I think those are some things that we really need here. And then I think, maybe just lastly, I think maybe thinking of like older young folks, I think things like on top, of course, on top of affordability and you know, the link between like income and food insecurity. There's also the access, like access to knowledge, access to land. So I think that's that's a big challenge for young young folks trying to get into gardening and like agriculture, it's really difficult to access like, land and resources and financing and knowledge to to be contributing to to food, like regional food security in the way of actually being able to grow food. So I think those are, those are some of the things I'd add to this conversation. Thank you.
Thank you, and Cassidy.
Yeah, so, um, I guess being more from the university perspective, so older young folks. But food insecurity impacts university students in like tons of ways, but I'll just speak to my experience. So I guess from working at the university and from being a student myself, food security obviously reduces a student's ability to succeed in their academic career, but also their personal lives. Because to think well, you need to eat well. So there's always this idea that the starving student is a rite of passage. But what it really is, at the end of the day, is it's a hinderance to our physical and our mental health. So, I find that students often attribute their ability to do well in academics to how smart they are, and they love to compare themselves to others. And if students aren't achieving a level of academic excellence that they expect from themselves, they, they blame it on themselves, instead of recognizing that it's the society around them's fault. And I find that our society does this to everyone, like our individual failings are often attributed to our inability to, like, work hard enough, or to be smart enough, but the blame should be put on, I guess, the society around us, that is, that puts tremendous amounts of pressure on us, but isn't giving us support in return. So I find that when young folks aren't given the opportunity to like, have their basic needs met, they equate that to their their value in society, and that's detrimental to your success and to your like your ability to contribute to to your greater community. And, yeah, it ruins our ability to build supportive communities because people don't see themselves as valuable pieces of, of our society. Yeah, not to mention the all the environmental implications that are awaiting young people, now the world is deteriorating around us. And we have no idea where it's going to be in 10, or 30, or 50 years. And this puts so much pressure on young folks, and it also changes the path of their future. And the way in which our food systems are built now is so market focused that young folks aren't, aren't able to experience the social and ecological relationships that are essential, I think, to building food sovereignty and to nurturing our bodies and nurturing our environment and, and nurturing our our souls.
Go ahead, Olivia.
I wanted to bring it back, because I feel like there's a few things that we do to address poverty that I haven't heard mentioned specifically, although I'm not saying that you don't, you might. But I really want to highlight, paying a living wage. So one of the reasons we started these social enterprises was to provide opportunities for training and employment, and to really walk the talk of, of paying living wage and making businesses that are sustainable and supportive of our community, and breaking down barriers for social inclusion. And we get asked, asked quite often why we charge for the at the Food Rescue grocery stores, we accept food donations, and we charge a really small amount, it's about 25 cents on the dollar. And by doing this, we're able to meet folks that don't access food banks. And also to create a program that's universally accessible and doesn't have stigma or shame attached to it, we apply a sustainability lens, and we focus on rescuing food from the landfill. So when folks access the food rescue grocery store, they're helping to reduce food waste, they're helping to increase sustainability and doing good in the community. And we've seen it really impacts people in building relationships, we see people come in and purchase for other people, and help each other out that way. And a lot of people are asking for ways to give back, which is amazing. For young people specifically, I also teach workshops in high schools, about food insecurity and food security. So we covered household food insecurity, how that's measured, and what that means and actually looks like using the PROOF data from University of Toronto. And we look at ways of identifying challenges and coming up with solutions. And we discuss some of the really cool things that are happening in Canada and around the world. And one of the greatest things that I see out of those workshops is the young people that are like, you can see the light bulb click, especially those who are experiencing food insecurity. They understand that it's a systemic problem, and they understand why they're experiencing the things that they're experiencing. So there's just that level of understanding is really important. And having someone else to to support them in, in that in that feeling that they have is really good. And a lot of them asked for ways to be involved in coming up with solutions. So we're working on developing a youth Food Policy Council to, to have a way to engage youth and have them to be involved and to amplify their voices in our community.
Okay, thank you. And to Karen.
Yeah, really great answers, everyone, I'll just add a few other things. I know you, you mentioned the the proof study, and they refer to things like anxiety, depression, ADHD, eating disorders, all in us because of not not having access to enough food, enough good quality food, culturally appropriate food, I put in the, in the chat a link to a video that we did in 2021 with our neighbors. So we interviewed people, videoed them, we also did a did a survey with our neighbors. And so, it's people talking about, and some young people, talking about how they, how they feel, to to not have appropriate food, to not have enough food, how they feel, going to food banks, and what it feels like when you have really good food to eat, how it gives you joy, and, and food like I think it maybe was Cassidy who said, you know, food is this human thing that we should be enjoying together. And it shouldn't be something that we have to be worried about, all the time. What we often hear from from newcomers, we, I started accepting, something I made up, prescriptions for good food, because there are so many restrictions in this food banking system. So anybody from Ottawa can come to the Parkdale Food Center, with a prescription from any medical professional or social worker with a prescription for good food, and they can get as much fruits and vegetables as they as they want. And so we see many refugees, many newcomers coming. And what they're saying is that they're not used to having all of this processed food that their children develop digestive issues that they're having trouble in school, having high cholesterol, even in kids as young as three and four years old. And you're right, I think maybe Benjamin, you said, you know, having dental issues, too. So cereal is a good example of that. You know, you come from another country and all of a sudden you see these boxes of cereal, which food banks often get because the industrial food system, you know, they they offload the Tim Hortons Timbits cereal because they can't sell it to people and it gets offloaded to food banks. Because that, you know, neoliberalism, you know, "beggars can't be choosers," and, and if you give that out to people, it is designed to be addictive. And that's exactly what happens.
Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Righting Our Relations with Food. We would like to thank our wonderful guests for sharing their knowledge and their insights with us. And from everyone here at Righting Relations Canada, we would like to thank our partner, the John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights. And of course, our funders, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, and Employment and Social Development Canada, for making this project possible. And we hope you'll join us again next month.