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From tundra to table
Ideas from Food Security Symposium starting to see light of day

Peter Worden
Northern News Services
Published Friday, May 10, 2013

Small changes are starting to happen after hunters, grocers, politicians and a host of thinkers met at the Food Security Symposium table last January hungry to talk more innovative, efficient and affordable ways to feed Nunavummiut.

NNSL photo/graphic

Hunter Joseph Mitsima sells Arctic char to Beate Hejnowicz across the street from Iqaluit's North Mart. Making country food more widely available was a top priority at Iqaluit's food security symposium last January but it may be proving more difficult than anticipated. - Peter Worden/NNSL photo

In a territory plagued by the high cost of flying in food from the south and as many as 70 per cent of households deemed to be "food insecure," country food figured prominently in delegates' discussions.

"Everyone brought a lot to the table," said Darrin Nichol, president of Nunavut Development Corp. in an interview with Nunavut News/North, having had time to digest the three day-long symposium's discussions. "There were no grandiose policy decisions but the overwhelming commitment was real and we all have a role to play. It's a serious problem."

"There was a clear reference to country food ... and how to commercialize it," said Nichol. "As it is, most people use Facebook, country air markets or a sharing-type concept. In a perfect scenario the programs would be aligned so we got country food to our target groups such as elders and the Iqaluit soup kitchen."

Nichol said the issue was complex and that sustainable management and operating with a low financial overhead was would get country food more widely available. He said the NDC was just one small component in taking ideas beyond the symposium.

"What's good about it I think there's an overwhelming understanding that our population needs access to country food and there's a strong awareness," he said.

Months on from the symposium, some ideas have seen the light of day.

At the opening, Cathy Towtongie, president of Nunavut Tunngavik Inc. said food banks could not utilize country food due to the liability that comes with it being unregulated. In February, Quttiktuq MLA Ron Elliott presented private member's Bill 46 the Donation of Food Act that allowed people to donate food while alleviating the liabilities of legal action if someone got sick.

The idea is just one of several other possible ideas that came out of the January symposium, which included redirecting current exports such as turbot to local markets, getting country food inspected and available in grocery stores at affordable prices, improving community infrastructure so hunters can store, prepare, share and sell their harvests, and exploring the viability of greenhouses and local food production.

"The market is one way hunters can access the cash economy but it's not necessarily the only way," said Willie Hyndman, who attended the symposium and spoke on behalf of Project Nunavut, the organizer Iqaluit's monthly country food market. "My own ground-breaking idea was that we should have a hunter sales tax, like 2 per cent on top of GST, as a long-term stable commitment to the traditional economy."

Hyndman's and other delegates' ideas could be the answer to having country food become more affordable and more widely available.

"We struggle with the commodification of country food but hunters have to make a living doing what they do," said Hyndman. "That was the general conclusion. I feel like everyone was more or less on the same page."

Another local thinker, Jim Little, spoke at the symposium about "the way we put our faith in southern consultants to solve our Northern problems, and how it hasn't been too successful in the past," he said.

Little is the lead organizer of the volunteer-run composting program in Iqaluit and advocates strongly for homegrown solutions not just for compost but also local food production, which he said is part-in-parcel to ridding food insecurity in Nunavut.

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