On June 9, protesters gathered outside of Nunavut grocery stores and on Parliament Hill to decry Canada’s shoddy food security situation, highlighted in last month’s scathing UN report.
At the helm of the June protests is Leesee Papatsie from Iqaluit. Papatsie started the facebook page Feeding My Family, which now boasts 21,500 members.
The page started as a forum for Nunavut residents to post pictures of the outrageous prices of their food. With a small jar of Kraft peanut butter cashing in at eighteen dollars, what are people eating? The answer is, not much. Half of all kids in Nunavut between the ages of 11 and 15, for example, sometimes go to bed hungry.
The June 9 protests garnered some much-needed media attention, but not nearly enough response from Ottawa. It seems like local residents—armed with a network of facebook followers across the continent—are taking matters into their own hands. Some organizers suggest that allies donate to food banks, while concerned Facebook members of the group offer to “adopt” a family or ship donations of food at their own expense. The seeming disconnect between the government’s response and the public’s concern is shocking.
Not much praise has been forthcoming for the federal initiative, Nutrition North, which replaced the Food Mail program on April 1, 2011. It aims to subsidize some basics, which include eggs, milk, bread and fruit and vegetables, but it excludes such imperishable necessities as diapers, pads and tampons, and toilet paper. Ever the dissenter, Federal Health Minister Leona Aglukkaq suggests that Nutrition North isn’t having much effect because the money goes to retailers who are supposed to pass on the benefits to local families by lowering prices. Aglukkaq says the problem is the retailers who are hiking up prices, a view echoed by local residents.
As I leave the coffee shop where I am working this morning, a sign on the door says “Thank you for supporting fair trade.” How is it that in southern Ontario we can choose to drink slightly-more-expensive-than-average coffee in order for coffee farmers to get a good deal, while some parents in Nunavut can’t afford to feed and diaper their kids? It really makes my interest in fair trade coffee, rooftop gardening, and home made bread feel a little, well, precious.