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Beyond Empty Pantries: Cultivating Knowledge and Building a Food Security Future

A Forgotten Truth: The Disconnect Between Children and Food’s Origins

“Where does chicken come from?”

A little girl raised her hand, “It comes from Loblaws.”

“No! It is from Metro!” belted confidently by the boy in the back.

Cultivating Knowledge and Building a Food Security Future The anecdote above was threaded into a presentation by our Founder “Nikole” shared on food security. We sat in silence surprised as “eggs”, “farm”, “nests”, or “mother nature”, the answers we were used to, weren’t mentioned. The innocent confusion of a child highlights a worrying trend: a growing disconnect between knowledge and access to food. The widening information gap between our urbanized lives and resourcing food is a symptom of a deeper challenge.

This disconnect fuels a serious and widespread issue: food insecurity. In Toronto, a city celebrated for its diverse culinary scene and vibrant cultural tapestry, one in ten residents struggles to secure safe, nutritious food (Pasieka, 2023). Food banks are overwhelmed as the reliance on emergency food provision is growing while supply cannot keep up (Pasieka, 2023). This harsh reality becomes even more alarming when we consider the children in our communities – the very individuals upon whom our future depends – who are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity.

Beyond Affordability: Unveiling the Roots of Food Insecurity

While the rising cost of living undoubtedly plays a role, food insecurity extends far beyond affordability. A complex web of factors contributes to this challenge, including:

  • Unreliable food and eco-education: Many individuals, particularly

younger generations, lack basic knowledge about food production, sourcing, and preparation. This knowledge gap hinders their ability to make informed choices and navigate the food system effectively. As they are losing traditional food growing knowledge, a rise of modern methods to secure foods presents a steep learning curve, leading to slow adoption of solutions such as aquaponic systems and urban gleaning. Urban agriculture initiatives are promising to stave off hunger, however, it require an emphasis on equitable access to knowledge and resources, ecological stewardship, and social connection to foster collective action (McClintock, 2014).

  • “Lone-wolf” mentality: Toronto’s emphasis on individuality

and self-reliance can pose a challenge in building a community safety net for food. This can hinder the creation of trustworthy social groups dedicated to food distribution and information sharing, which could otherwise contribute to collective and holistic action towards a sustainable and equitable food system (Paula, 2021).

  • Systemic challenges: Certain areas within Toronto are “food

deserts” as they lack access to fresh, affordable produce and healthy food options. This disparity creates an uneven playing field, disproportionately affecting marginalized and low-income communities. Inadequate social assistance programs and racial and socioeconomic inequalities contribute significantly to food insecurity by limiting access to resources and opportunities.

The Ripple Effect: Understanding the Consequences of Food Insecurity

The consequences of food insecurity are far-reaching and multifaceted. Children, with their developing bodies and minds, are particularly vulnerable. Studies show that children living in food-insecure households are more likely to experience:

  • Chronic undernourishment or stunting: This can lead to stunted

growth, weakened immune systems, and long-term health complications. Roughly 20% of children globally experience chronic undernourishment or stunting, or overweight from low-nutrition foods, highlighting the complex challenge of ensuring their well-being (Micha et al., 2020)

  • Health and mental health issues: Food insecurity can contribute

to increased anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges in children and adults alike. The Canadian Medical Association Journal shows the correlation among the mental health decline and the health-service need increase for children in food-insecure environments (Paula, 2021).

Beyond Emergency Aid: Building a Sustainable Food System for All

While emergency food banks offer a vital lifeline, they are not a long-term solution to food insecurity. Addressing this issue requires a multi-pronged approach that focuses on:

  • Bridging the knowledge gap: Equipping individuals, especially

the young, with food literacy skills is crucial. This includes understanding food production, nutrition, budgeting, and healthy cooking practices.

  • Building a stronger food network: Fostering collaboration

for yourself and children among community members, farmers, food distributors, community organizations, and individuals is key to creating a more equitable, risk tolerant, and accessible food system.

  • Promoting long-term solutions: Addressing systemic issues

like poverty, inadequate social assistance, and racial inequalities require collective action and systemic change.

 

Cultivating the Knowledge to Building a Food Security Future

Green Schools Green Future: Empowering the Next Generation

Amidst the challenges, innovative programs like Green Schools Green Future (GSGF) offer a ray of hope and a model for positive change. This program goes beyond simply providing food; it empowers children and youth with knowledge, confidence, and a sense of agency.

Cultivating Knowledge and Building a Food Security Future Through Hands-On Learning: 

  • From Seed to Plate: GSGF students cultivate vegetable gardens

and learn how food is grown and processed sustainably. Imagine having 5-8 acres of land as well as vertical farms, dedicated

for 700 children to learn, experiment, and grow.

  • Nutritional Literacy: The program incorporates cooking workshops

for students to prepare nutritious meals daily with chefs, nutritional guidance, and hands-on meal preparation, fostering healthy eating habits.

  • Science, Chemistry, Biology, Technology, and Innovation: Students

explore various aspects of food production, including vertical farming technologies and sustainable practices, gaining valuable skills for the future.

Nurturing Empowerment and Community Building:

  • Decision-Making Skills: GSGF encourages students to participate

in planning and decision-making processes, fostering leadership skills and a sense of ownership. GSGF challenges children on how much seed to buy, distributing surplus to community and more as today’s leaders.

Community Connections: The program creates opportunities for

collaboration and interaction between students, volunteers, and community members, strengthening social bonds, food and innovative technologies network.

  • Sustainable Future Leaders: By equipping students with knowledge

and skills, GSGF empowers them to become active agents of change, building a more equitable and sustainable food system for future generations.

Your support & Donations are welcome: www.greenschoolsgreenfuture.org/donate

Cultivating Knowledge and Building a Food Security Future  Written By Daphne Pan

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