Nfld. & Labrador·Fed Up

What did Snowmageddon teach us about food insecurity?

The different lessons learned from the storm dubbed Snowmageddon was the key talking point at a panel put together by Food First NL, and featured different groups from around the city.

The issue of food insecurity became visible during January's blizzard

Dozens of people take part in a discussion about what January's record blizzard showed us about food insecurity in Newfoundland and Labrador. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Over the course of eight days, January's record blizzard showed Newfoundland and Labrador had a lot to learn about emergency preparation. Not only about snow clearing, but also about food insecurity.

"I think we've learned many things," Food First NL president Josh Smee said. "For many of us in the community, I'd say we've learned more about how much food insecurity we have in this province. That became really visible, especially during the storm when people were cut off from their regular support networks."

During the state of emergency put in place by the City of St. John's, grocery stores across the city were unable to open, leading to many being unable to restock their food during the storm.

Josh Smee is the CEO of Food First NL. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

"The storm exposed some of the big gaps we're facing," Smee said. "We heard a lot, when we talked to people, about the communication gaps trying to find accurate information on where to go for support, particularly with food. And just the logistical gap of being trapped in your home."

The different lessons learned from the storm — dubbed Snowmageddon on social media — was the key talking point at a panel put off by Food First NL, and featured different groups including Choices for Youth, disability resource centre Empower, and St. John's Mayor Danny Breen.

The blizzard forced grocery stores to close during the state of emergency, which meant long lines after they reopened. (Submitted by Chris Sutherby)

During the blizzard, thousands of people in St. John's were unable to work, which only added to the feeling of food insecurity for those in the community.

"People that you wouldn't expect," Sylvia White, member of the Choices for Youth Leadership Council said. "Young people that are working and they're living cheque to cheque.…They didn't get paid in time before the stores were shut down, so when they did get paid, they had no food."

Smee said the loss of a paycheque will be felt for a lot longer than the eight days the state of emergency was in effect.

"Many people lost eight days or a week's income," Smee said. "And for folks who are living in marginal circumstances, living with low incomes, that's something that can echo for months."

It's really important to have these conversations- Kerry-Lynn Gauci

Aaron Sehachner came to the island from Quebec two years ago, and came to the panel to learn more about how the province's food services work.

"I come from Quebec, and obviously the way the food gets here is a little different," Sehachner said.

Sehachner said he was in a good enough position to have his food last through the state of emergency, but understands not everyone was in that situation. He said he would like a solution to the problem take a local approach.

"If we can sort of develop a way to have more local food produced here, that would be useful even when there's no emergency," Sehachner said. "If we have a normal winter and all that, I'd like to see more focus on the food we have in Newfoundland. Ways to preserve it, maybe diversify the options for food and make sure that everybody has access."

Kerry-Lynn Gauci has always had an interest in food security, and wanted to come to the discussion to see what community groups had to say about the issue of food insecurity. (Alex Kennedy/CBC)

Kerry-Lynn Gauci said seeing both people who can implement a solution along with members of the public come to the discussion will be important in coming up with a solution.

"It's really important to have these conversations," Gauci said. "From [these] voices, we'll get more data, we'll get more information, and then we can have our key decision makers identify strategies.

"I think we're on the right path," Gauci added. "I think we can't let the distance between the Snowmageddon and where we are now interfere with what needs to be done in the future, because we have other crises that could come up."

Smee said discussions with the public and other community groups have been going well, and that this communication will help get everyone on the same page.

"There's a lot of energy to do more coordinated planning around this kind of thing," Smee said. "From the city and the towns around us and with the province's emergency management staff."

"I think for this to move forward, folks from each of those levels need to be hearing from each other, and understanding how decisions made at one level impact how services are maybe unrolled in another one and vice versa."

Fed Up is a yearlong series by CBC NL, in collaboration with Food First NL, exploring the issues surrounding food insecurity and why many people in the province struggle to access food.

Fed Up is a collaboration between CBC N.L. and Food First NL, the province’s not-for-profit organization that works to improve access to healthy, safe and culturally appropriate food.

Read more from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Alex Kennedy

Journalist

Alex Kennedy works for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador in St. John's.

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