Thursday, September 19, 2013

The True Foodie Read "The Stop": Beyond Food Banking Book Review

EcoYogini shares her recent transformative read on food banking...

I just finished reading "The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement" by Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis.

It has changed the way I think of Food Banks, poverty and hunger.

Written by the (recently former) director of a Torontonian "Food Bank", The Stop is the passionate, inspirational and transformational story of how a food bank in Toronto became something of a food advocacy movement across the country.

Like most people, prior to reading The Stop I had always regarded food banks as an essential component, perhaps an answer, to fighting hunger. Statements like: "Canadians waste one third of all food while thousands go hungry" felt logical in their pairing. As if one directly influenced the other.

At  the same time I had an inkling that food banks weren't really a great situation. I had heard often that the quality of food at food banks is often poor; processed foods, boxed dry goods, a lack of fresh food. And that the experience would be demeaning. But... I also had this (shameful) thought along the lines of "At least it's food".

The book chronicles Nick Saul's journey through his beginning at the Stop in 1998, and the changes he brought to the food bank over the course of 14 years as the Director with a distinct personal feel. The book includes the challenges faced, the reality of poverty, food banking and hunger in Canada and around the world, and real people stories who frequented The Stop.

What I thought was especially paradigm shifting, beyond confirming that living off of one food bank hamper per month just isn't enough, was the affirmation that "food isn't just food".

I knew that food banking wasn't relegated to the homeless and that often, especially in larger centres, the concept of poverty and hunger could mean paying your rent vs eating. How do you choose between the two? Living in Halifax I can see that happening. Housing in the city is astronomically unaffordable on minimum wage. Although the further outside of the city you go, the more affordable housing gets... typically jobs are IN the city or require a vehicle. Public transportation outside the city taking up 45min-1hr minimum each trip at infrequent hours at a cost of over 70$ monthly pass is difficult- especially if you have children to feed once you get home at, 7pm... Never mind finding (and paying for) after school care.

Just because a person needs a food hamper, doesn't mean they don't deserve to eat well.

What I found so essential, and something that is often overlooked, was the change of referring to food bank frequenters to "members", allowing them a choice of food, having a clean (no mice and no mold) and a clearly defined space while treating members with respect. The Stop began accepting volunteer positions from local members, empowering their community. What they noticed, were tension decreased, community involvement increased and member conflicts decreased. Language shapes how we view the world. 

Beyond this basic human right of healthy food, it was fascinating to read about the tricky ethical situations that Food Banks find themselves in when dealing with large "Big Food" processed food company donors. The Stop has increased there connections and sources from local, when possible, organic farmers.

Finally, what I found amazing about the Stop, was their strategy to poverty and hunger. It went beyond creating a respectful, clean and healthier place to find food, to offering advocacy groups, having a community garden, encouraging members to volunteer, cooking classes, support groups... to a larger community farmer's market, fundraising and awareness building "Green Barn". It is flabbergasting.

If you'd like to change the way you think of hunger, poverty and community food movements I highly recommend reading The Stop. It will rock your foodie socks.

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