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Panellists discuss complexity of food systems: 'We aren't paying the true cost'

More than 200 attend third in series, Calgary and Beyond: Sustainability in the Next 20 Years
February 1, 2017
Nearly 200 people gathered on Thursday, Jan. 26 as part of the Calgary and Beyond: Sustainability in the Next 20 Years speaker series to explore the future of our food. Photos by Colleen De Neve for the University of Calgary.

Nearly 200 people gathered on Thursday, Jan. 26 as part of the Calgary and Beyond: Sustainability in the Next 20 Years speaker series to explore the future of our food. Photos by Colleen De Neve for the University of Calgary. 

Panelists answer questions from the audience during open floor Q & A. From left to right: Kristi Peters-Snider, Kris Vester and Scott Pohorelic.

Attendees met with representatives from local community and campus organizations actively promoting sustainable food to learn more about their initiatives and ways to get involved.

Attendees, which include students, faculty, staff and community are given an opportunity to mix and mingle with the panelists and one another to make new connections and reflect on the days conversations while enjoying sustainably sourced refreshments. 

Farmed salmon isn't always bad, organic isn't always what it seems to be and buying local isn't necessarily sustainable. About 200 people turned out on Jan. 26 to learn more about these and other complexities surrounding the food we eat at Calgary and Beyond: Sustainability in the Next 20 Years speaker series.

Four panellists encouraged people to eat good food, learn about local and regional food systems, help educate others, volunteer in local and community food movement initiatives and become activists and advocates for food and sustainability issues.

"The focus on municipal food systems is gaining momentum," says Kristi Peters-Snider, sustainability consultant at the City of Calgary's Office of Sustainability. She points to the City's food strategy, Calgary EATS! that's raising awareness about food systems and encouraging collaboration between different players. "Building a sustainable and resilient food system is a shared responsibility and strategic partnerships are key," she says.

"We aren't paying the true cost for our food," says Kris Vester, the owner of Blue Mountain Biodynamic Farm and president of Slow Food Calgary. The costs that don't show up on our grocery bill include GHG emissions, degradation of oceans, health impacts like obesity and even human rights issues like slavery in countries that help supply our "cheap food.

"There can't be sustainability in food systems if there isn't sustainability in transportation, energy and many other systems," Vester says.

Scott Pohorelic, chef and culinary instructor at SAIT's School of Hospitality and Tourism, says, "Beware of buzzwords." One organic ingredient on a restaurant plate doesn't mean the meal is organic and buying local isn't always the sustainable thing to do. "When a chef buys local meat it could be coming from a feedlot that may have poor living quarters or uses antibiotics, so it's local but not necessarily sustainable," adds Pohorelic. Oceanwise, meanwhile, recognizes that some commercial salmon farming operations are sustainable.

"Canada has a massive problem with food insecurity," says Marit Rosol, Tier II Canada Research Chair in Global Urban Studies and associate professor in the Department of Geography. "We may be focusing too much on food banks, but we need income-based solutions." To overcome food insecurity, we have to address the lack of affordable housing, rising tuition and other social issues. Rosol also spoke about the "extreme concentration of power" in the food industry where only 500 companies worldwide control 70 per cent of our food choices. "But if we think buying local is the solution, we ignore the national and other scales that can achieve real change," Rosol says.

Both before and after the panel presentations and discussion, which were moderated by food writer, author and broadcaster, Julie Van Rosendaal, attendees visited a number of local organizations that had set up booths at the event. Among them were the campus Garden Club, YYC Growers and Campus Community Kitchen, whose members educated others about what they do and ways to get involved.

"The speaker series is addressing barriers and opportunities to cultivate solutions to some of the complex challenges we face as we move to a more sustainable and resilient future," says Craig Gerlach, academic co-ordinator of sustainability at UCalgary. "Everyone is welcome to attend these free events, have their voices heard and be part of the conversation."

The next event, March 9, will delve into the topic of community health and well-being. Stay tuned to the speaker series webpage.

To learn about sustainable food initiatives on campus, visit the sustainability website.