It’s the time of year when food is probably the last thing you want to talk about, but a St. John’s woman is hoping to make it not only a topic of conversation around the province, but a source of inspiration and a reason for change.
Carla Taylor is part of a project called Great Meals for a Change, with the goal of promoting more sustainable food purchasing in Newfoundland and Labrador. The program was developed at Acadia University in Wolfville, N.S. as part of a research project on sustainable food, and Taylor, who was hired on with the program to help expand it through Atlantic Canada, decided it would be a perfect fit for this province.
“The first summer I was living here, I was really inspired by what a strong sense of community there is here,” Taylor, a native of British Columbia and an organic farmer, said. “I think through communities you can create change, so I felt like it would definitely succeed here.”
Through Great Meals for a Change, participants can purchase or borrow a toolkit to help them host a party-style meal of sustainable food in their own home, with their family and friends. In the kit are things like placemats and menu cards well as host cue cards, and games for guests to play to encourage conversation and learning.
During the meal, the guests take turns choosing and reading cards that provide trivia about food issues or invite them to share experiences and stories about sustainable food. After dessert, the host asks each of the guests to share a practical way to increase their consumption of sustainable food, and invites them to write their idea on a postcard. The card is sent to them several weeks later as a reminder.
Also included in the kits and on the project’s website are recipes for dishes that could be served at the dinner party. Taylor is in the process of collecting recipes made from Newfoundland and Labrador ingredients, — moose, cod, vegetables, berries, anything — and is looking for the public’s help.
“The primary ingredients are Newfoundland and Labrador ingredients, or it could be a meal you remember your grandparents making. Something you would find healthy and enjoyable,” Taylor explained.
“I’m also interested in knowing the name of the dish, if it’s prepared in a particular region and time of year, or any stories you might have associated with the dish, as well as if it’s OK to post the story on the website.”
Taylor said the program identifies sustainable food as food that is:
— Ecologically responsible = Produces low greenhouse gas emissions, maintains or improves soil and water quality, protects ecosystems and biodiversity and treats livestock humanely
— Fair and accessible = Providing farmers, fishermen and food workers with a liveable income, giving all people access to a basic, affordable and nutritious diet, enabling people to live with dignity in sustainable rural communities, and promoting justice and fair trade in underdeveloped countries
— Local = Minimizes food miles travelled, and supports local farms, the fishery, businesses and community development
— Has no packaging
Local people do have a desire to eat sustainable food, Taylor has found, but she acknowledged there are barriers that prevent them from it.
“I know there is some fear among people that I’ve spoken to who are farming about a lack of young people coming in and continuing to grow our food...,” she said. “There’s a lot of knowledge that exists in this province, based on the history — a lot of people used to grow food in their back gardens, literally — and there is a rebirth of community gardens happening.
“Finances are another barrier that exists — sometimes purchasing food that is organic or local may seem like a pretty high cost. I do know from some people I’ve talked to that if you are purchasing local or organic food, the quality of the food you’re getting is higher, so the medicine you’re putting into your body may, in the long run, save you money in terms of your health care.”
So far, Taylor has had a great response to the program. She has organized three training sessions for people in St. John’s and Corner Brook who want to host a Great Meals for a Change dinner for later this month, which were full within a day of publicizing them.
Her ultimate goal, she said, is to continue to create opportunities for people to have discussions and gain knowledge about eating more sustainable food.
“If one person at each Great Meals for a Change meal gets inspired or finds access to healthy foods because of this, that would be great,” she said.
Anyone wishing to host a Great Meals for a Change meal or who has a recipe to submit to Taylor can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org. A website for the project, www.greatmealsforachange.ca, is online but under construction.