Thunder Bay

'Incredible risk in our food system': Thunder Bay food strategy says lessons to be learned from pandemic

Members of the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy (TAFSA) believe there are important lessons to be learned from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security, and they’re calling on service agencies, businesses and government to work together to improve the situation in the future.

COVID-19 shining light on issues contributing to food insecurity; strategy urges all groups to work together

Charles Levkoe is on the executive committee of the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy. He is also the Canada Research Chair in Food Sustainability at Lakehead University. He says the global pandemic is shining a light on issues of food security. (Charles Levkoe)

Members of the Thunder Bay and Area Food Strategy (TAFSA) believe there are important lessons to be learned from the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on food security, and they're calling on service agencies, businesses and government to work together to improve the situation in the future.

"This is a real moment, potentially even a turning point," said Charles Levkoe, an executive member of the TAFSA, and the Canada Research Chair in Food Sustainability at Lakehead University.

He noted that the COVID-19 crisis has exposed "an incredible risk in our food system and a lack of resilience"

"In Thunder Bay, we're really dependent on a lot of imports from outside the city, this 'just in time' food system and these long supply chains dominated primarily by large companies make our food system very fragile."

The global pandemic may lead to additional supply shortages, higher food prices, and a widening gap between those with economic means, low-income wage earners and those living in poverty, Levkoe suggested.

'Normal was already a crisis'

"We all talk about 'we want to get back to normal' but the reality is for many people in this city, in this country, normal was already a crisis."

He said statistics show that even before the pandemic about 4.4-million Canadians had inadequate access to food due to financial constraints, with numbers being even higher in remote, rural, northern and Indigenous communities.

However, the sudden stop to many jobs has thrown thousands of other people out of work and now those who used to have a steady paycheque are relying on food banks for the first time in their lives.

This reality, said Levkoe,  is making many people look for new initiatives and new ways of doing things, including reexamining the basic income pilot project, which was started by the former Liberal government in Ontario and was running in Thunder Bay, Hamilton and Lindsay.  It was stopped at about the halfway mark when the Progressive Conservatives came to power in 2018. 

Need to build community that takes care of everyone

"We absolutely need to think about the underlying causes of why people are hungry in the first place,why some of us are able,during this very difficult time, to have the food we need and the security we need and others don't," said Levkoe.

"We need to make sure that in the future we have a food system and a society, a community that can take care of everyone, that people can feed themselves and we have a city that can produce our food and feed the population and also treat people fairly."

The TAFSA statement on COVID-19 urges community organizations, social service agencies, businesses and municipal government to ensure people have safe, dignified access to food through the pandemic, and that food security and stability in the city, and across the region is improved in the future.

The TAFSA executive committee  includes representative from Roots to Harvest, Brule Creek Farms, EcoSuperior, Lakehead University, Indigenous Food Circle, Community Economic Development Commission, City of Thunder Bay, Northwestern Ontario Women's Centre, Oliver Paipoonge council, Bare Organics and the Thunder Bay District Health Unit.

The full interview with  Charles Levkoe on CBC's Superior Morning can be found here.

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