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Wednesday, November 7, 2018


Food for Thought
Victory Gardens: Food Security Then & Now

Did you know that during World War I and II, Canadians gardened to help feed themselves and support the war effort? These gardens were called Victory Gardens, and in 1943, there were 200,000 of them in Canada.

 Sampson, Joseph Ernest, 1887-1946, artist
World War I and II forced people to make changes and sacrifices at home as well as abroad. The economy was focused on the war effort, and every household felt the impact. One of these impacts was on food. Food needed to be shipped to soldiers and, in WWII, to the people of Britain. Slogans such as, “Serve apples daily and you serve your country too,” urged Canadians to eat “patriotic” foods that were not needed for shipping overseas. 

Because a huge amount of food needed to be exported, some foods were not as available at home. Across the country, Canadians gardened to add to their home supply and support the war effort. In World War I, the Ministry of Agriculture led a campaign to encourage, "A Vegetable Garden for Every Home.” Residents of cities, towns and villages used backyards to grow vegetables in what became known as “Victory Gardens.”

During the Second World War, many Canadians saw the value of a home garden. But the Federal Ministry of Agriculture did not agree. One 1942 pamphlet produced by the department went so far as to actively discourage unskilled “city-folk” from planting food gardens because they would waste “garden tools, fertilizers and sprays, which are made from materials needed by Canada’s war industries.” 

But Canadians were experiencing shortages of basic foods like potatoes, carrots and onions. Many citizens ignored the government and turned their yards into gardens. Organizations like the Victory Gardens Brigade in Victoria wrote letters to the federal government pointing out the value of home food production. Finally, in early 1943, the government realized there would be more food available to ship overseas if Canadians were eating from their gardens. 

In an about-face, the government said that “every bit of land that is suitable should be put into a garden.” Canadians began to turn soil and plant seeds with enthusiasm.  Everywhere backyards became gardens, many with chickens. 

In Burnaby, lands returned to the city for failure to pay taxes were made available for gardens. A local newspaper ran headlines about the Victory Garden Competition and printed announcements for the Victory Garden Club.  One announcement urged Burnaby gardeners to “Sew Vegetables Now.” By the end of 1943, it was estimated that there were 52,000 Victory Gardens in the Lower Mainland. 

Today, many people want to eat food that is grown locally and without chemicals. Urban gardening is making a comeback. Some people are gardening for the first time, creating small gardens in their yards and on their balconies.

If you are interested in gardening, the Burnaby Public Library is a good source of information.  You can search the book catalogue online, or drop in and a librarian will help you. You can also search the internet using ‘vegetable gardening for beginners”. And check back to the September 24/18 blog post on this site to find information about local seed catalogues that have great growing information. November is a great time to plan your spring garden.

If you are interested in a community garden, the City of Burnaby has excellent information online. You can find out what types of community gardens there are and get contact information to learn more.

The Victory Gardens of the past helped Canadians to feed themselves and be more self-sufficient. Our future food crises are likely to be caused by climate change rather than war. But it’s reassuring to know that Canadians are up to the challenge of growing food.




Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Food for Thought
Food Security: A Little Hormones with Your Milk?

Soon, 3.59% of milk in Canada will come from the United States. This is a result of the new US—Mexico—Canada trade agreement. Dairy farmers in Canada are very concerned about the impact this will have on their incomes and the future for small dairy farms in our country.

Another concern about US milk coming into Canada is that it might come from cows that have been injected with a growth hormone – rBGH.


What’s the problem?

Monsanto, a huge  agricultural chemical company (now owned by Bayer), developed rBGH to increase the amount of milk that dairy cows produce. Cows that are injected with this growth hormone can produce 5% to 15% more milk. This sounds like a good thing, right?

Well, for cows, not so much. Twenty years ago, rBGH was banned from use in Canada mostly because of the health impact on dairy cows. Cows injected with rBGH have higher rates of painful udder infections and lameness, and they live shorter lives. As well, the udder infection (mastitis) is treated with antibiotics, a small amount of which may end up in the milk.

What about human health? There still isn’t enough research to say for sure if it causes long-term health problems or if it’s safe. There is some evidence that rBGH is linked to some types of cancer, but there has not been enough research to say for sure. Many countries, including all countries in the European Union, have banned the use of rBGH.

And if we don’t know for sure, it makes sense to be careful. Over a life time, people drink a lot of milk, and there have been no long-term studies of rBGH. 

Good News

Fewer dairy farms in the US are using rBGH than a decade ago. This is mostly because the public and organizations like the American Humane Society don’t support it. (The American Medical Association withdrew its statement that rBGH was OK, and now does not have a policy position on the issue.) Most people want to drink milk that's free of rBGH.

More Good News 

Right now, the milk from cows that have been injected with growth hormones doesn’t have to be labelled. Monsanto fought hard to stop labelling in the US by lobbying government and by launching lawsuits. This means that if you’re buying milk that comes from the US, you may not be able to tell if it’s rBGH-free. 

But there’s an easy fix: just make sure you buy milk from Canadian dairies, the same ones you’re buying from now.

The Long Term

Food is secure when communities control it. That means having control over what’s grown, how it’s grown and how it’s distributed. It’s not ok for the government to give away control of what’s in the milk we buy, even if it’s only some of the milk. You can let the government know how you feel about this issue by telling your Member of Parliament. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Towards Food & Social Justice



TOMORROW NIGHT!!

Domestic Hunger in the USA & Canada: Towards Food & Social Justice
Discussion and Q&A with authors, Andy Fisher and Graham Riches
Tuesday, October 2nd  |  7:00pm – 8:30pmMount Pleasant Neighbourhood House800 East Broadway, Vancouver
Cost: Free, no RSVP required


Join us for this free event, an evening of conversation with authors Graham Riches and Andy Fisher. Both of their recently published books critically explore the root causes of food insecurity in the Global North. Their work puts the adequacy of food banks on trial as a primary solution to this nation-wide issue. We will hear from both authors, and open up the room for conversation and questions from the audience. Light refreshments will be provided. 


Andy Fisher is a leading national expert on community food security in the USA, and author of the recently published Big Hunger: The Unholy Alliance between Corporate America and Anti Hunger Groups (MIT Press, 2017). He is a co-founder of the Community Food Security Coalition (CFSC), which has successfully brought together food security advocates across the country and influenced federal nutritional legislation. More recently he served as the Executive Director at Portland Fruit Tree Program (2015-2017). Andy Fisher currently consults on various food system organizations and speaks throughout North America about his vision for addressing hunger.

Graham Riches is a former Director of UBC’s School of Social Work (1998 – 2008), and author of Food Bank Nations: Poverty, Corporate Charity and the Right to Food (Routledge, 2018). He is a co-founder of Vancouver Food Policy Council and has written extensively about food poverty in Canada and first world hunger in wealthy nation states from a right to food perspective.