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Stephen Quinn
Stephen Quinn

CITY LIMITS

Vancouver city council, let’s get real on food Add to ...

This week Vancouver City Council approved the Vancouver Food Strategy which will, to quote the report, improve access to healthy and affordable, culturally diverse food, enable food-friendly neighbourhoods, empower residents, and advocate for a just and sustainable food system. I don’t really know what any of that means but people seem to to be celebrating it so, yay.

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I have a hunch I’m not the target audience here.

See, I do a lot of my shopping at this thing called a “supermarket.” Stay with me here. Try to wrap your mouth around the word. It’s a combination of two words: super (meaning above or beyond) and market (a place where you buy stuff). So, like, a really good place to buy stuff.

I usually go there early on Saturday mornings. A one-dollar refundable deposit gets me the use of a large cart that I push through the store gathering what I need for the week. Bread, milk, cheese, eggs, meat, fish – that sort of thing. I can also buy a cheaply made sweater, or jeans for my children, a small appliance, and some patio furniture if I choose. They often offer me an incentive to spend more money. Some weeks it’s a gift card that amounts to roughly 10 per cent of my purchase. Other weeks it’s a frozen wheel of cocktail shrimp. After paying for the items, I pack them into wicker baskets I keep in the homemade bamboo trailer behind my bike. Just kidding. The bins are plastic and I keep them in the back of the Honda.

Later the same day, I may walk to Norman’s for fresh produce, the Ravioli store for pasta and pizza dough, and hit the Grotto for cheese slightly more exotic than the waxy medium cheddar I picked up earlier.

I’ll go out on a limb here: I think most people in the Lower Mainland probably acquire their food in a similar fashion. Grocery store for the basics, green grocer for the fresh stuff, and a couple of specialty shops.

But after reading the city’s food strategy, it’s clear that I’m doing it all wrong.

For instance, I’m not telling stories about food. That’s something the report approved by council this week says is important: “The importance of emphasizing personal ‘food stories’ was prioritized during community consultation with socio-economically diverse, age-diverse, and harder-to-reach communities. Storytelling was used as a means of engaging groups and organizations, highlighting community priorities and personal connections with food.”

It turns out that when the city held a food-themed storytelling night, it drew more than 400 people, according to the report.

I do have stories about food, but most of them aren’t very interesting. They’re mostly about the cashiers, to be honest.

Another earth-shattering revelation in the report is this: Some people who live in this city don’t have enough money to buy good food or enough of it. The report puts it like this: “In spite of the food system assets that Vancouver enjoys, there are a number of gaps and vulnerabilities including unequal access to healthy, affordable food. … Added to these challenges are disturbing socio-economic trends across Canada including a growing income gap, social polarization …”

So, let me see if I have this right: In a city of obnoxious wealth and abject poverty, where what’s left of the middle class routinely spend 60 per cent of their income to keep a roof over their heads, there’s not a pile of cash left over at the end of the month. Is that what you’re saying?

Listed at the top of the Food Strategy’s five priorities and goals is this: “Food Production: Increasing opportunities for urban agriculture, including community gardens and urban farms.”

Regular readers of this column may know that last year I embarked on a major project to grow vegetables in garden boxes beside my house. It was not a complete success, though the tomatoes that ripened in mid-November were tasty. But in an average two-week period, we discard more organic material in the form of store-bought potato peels, apple cores and banana peels than I harvested from two garden boxes in an entire growing cycle. Maybe that makes me a bad urban farmer. In fact, I’m certain I’m a terrible urban farmer.

But what I’ve learned is that the key to my family’s food security does not depend on our meagre harvest or storytelling. It depends on two people working full-time (and then some) to earn enough money to service the mortgage and have enough left over to buy groceries from a store that is the aesthetic opposite of a farmer’s market.

And if we’re lucky, they’ll throw in a shrimp ring.

 

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