In May of 2012, Olivier De Schutter, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food blasted Canada for what he called "self righteous" attitudes and for doing little to address the issue of the large amounts of the Canadian population that don't eat healthy foods because of poverty.
The Conservative Party of Canada shot back with a quick rebuttal blasting De Schutter for even spending time and money to travel throughout Canada while millions starve in developing nations of the world.
Jasmine Tara, the coordinator for North End Food Security Network (NEFSN), an organization that tries to make sure "everyone has sustainable access to food in a way that promotes heath, respect and dignity" was angry the federal government dismissed De Schutter's findings but in many ways thinks it was a good thing.
"When the government came out against De Schutter it really started a dialogue," said Tara. "The envoy wasn't getting much coverage before that but then it got more mainstream attention and at least people were talking about it. If the government hadn't come out with the rebuttal it might not have made national news."
Tara said the NEFSN works to "improve food security in the Winnipeg's North End." One of the ways it does this is by offering clinics where North End residents can learn ways to cook healthy and affordable meals.
Tara says the NEFSN focuses on residents of all cultural backgrounds but because the area has a high aboriginal population she definitely says they also focus on the diets of the aboriginal community.
Tara is half native and part Icelandic and Irish.
"It's definitely a problem. There are so many convenience stores in the area and very little large grocery stores in walking distance for many residents. You see a lot of aboriginal kids in the area having Slurpees or chips and trying to get their breakfast, lunch and dinner from convenience stores. It leads to a lot of problems with obesity and diabetes in the aboriginal community."
Tara said that despite the amount of aboriginal kids eating unhealthy foods the NEFSN is doing positive things that are starting to get the message to these kids about eating healthy.
"We teach a lot of these kids ways to cook healthy meals and they go home and teach it to their parents. Kids learn better at a young age because their brains soak it up like sponges. A lot of times when we teach a family to cook healthy we go through the kids."
When the Conservative government blasted De Schutter it seemed defensive, dismissive and not based on facts. The government seemed to be saying that there are country's with far worse situations so the UN should just focus on those country's and leave Canada alone.
On the other side of the issue, De Schutter's arguments were based on numbers and facts. He said that over 800,000 households in Canada are food insecure. At a press conference at Winnipeg Harvest in May that I attended De Schutter said, “In Manitoba alone $300 million went to treating diabetes. The costs will continue to increase and this will be one major reason why Canada can’t ignore adopting a national food policy." CBC news said that De Schutter was "armed with statistics."
It was sad for me to see the government dismiss De Schutter while hundreds of thousands of Canadian families don't eat properly
As frustrating as it was to see the government dismiss De Schutter it is great to see organizations like NEFSN work to help low-income Canadians eat healthier and Tara said they are getting a great response from the community and from Winnipeg's aboriginal community.
Here are some great pictures courtesy of Jasmine Tara showing food clinics at NEFSN.