Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Food (and Drinks) for Thought- The School Year’s Inaugural Science Café

 The night of September 13th found me settling in at the Laughing Buddha with a pint and some friends for a bit of recreational science communication. Science North was hosting its first non-health related Science Café, a discussion of food safety, food security and food sovereignty with a particular focus on Sudbury’s local food system.

As a food scientist by training, I’m the first to admit that our current food system is fraught with problems. Luckily, there is a wealth of knowledge to draw on for improvements because everyone is part of our food system.  The Café gave the audience the opportunity to consider their role in the food system in a new way and to ask the panelists for their opinions and advice.

The Café consisted of a facilitated group discussion preceded by short presentations by Julie Poirier Mensinga, an Agricultural Business Specialist for the Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs; Amy Hallman, the Northern Ontario FarmON Coordinator for Eat Local Sudbury and  Doreen Ojala, the Project Manager for a local initiative known as the FoodShed Project. All panelists addressed the state of food and agriculture in Northern Ontario. Amy and Doreen are Sudbury residents with strong ties to the community. Their passion for their respective projects was an effective engagement tool for the audience of Sudbury locals.

The audience questions related largely to their point-of-purchase food decisions; baby steps to a better food system. Local foods can be expensive, what should I spend my money on to best benefit the community? Amy shared a quick cost comparison chart illustrating that everyday products like bread and peanut butter can be found at equal or lesser cost at the farmer’s market or local co-op. What can I do at home to help making local easier? Doreen brought a variety of produce that can be grown in Sudbury and speaks to the gardening prowess of local gardeners and FoodShed supporters.

Bigger picture questions were also asked by the audience, like what about products that just can’t grow in Northern Ontario? Do we import or go without? If we do import, what’s the best way to do so? The discussion that followed reflected that sometimes these decisions are tough to make; that one answer might not work for everyone. However by taking the time to consider the bigger picture of our food system, changes are already being made.

The current Science Communication class was only a week into the program at the time of the Café, but in addition to bringing some new observing skills to the night we were able to take a lot away. We were all very impressed with the moderating skills of Science Communication alumnus Leigha. Her ability to interpret audience questions for the panelists kept their responses as relevant and concise as possible.

What was apparent from the Café is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions for our food system, but improvement is possible. There are over 6 billion people on this planet, all of whom are entitled to food as a basic human right. How to feed such a huge population in an efficient, nutritionally sound, safe and sustainable way is a huge and overwhelming undertaking. By taking a personal interest and having discussions like the one started at the Café, piece by piece we can build a brave, new food world.

For information on the panelists and upcoming science cafes, click here.

Hayley Rutherford

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