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Vancouver will never feed all its hungry as long as the issue is framed as “food security”

It’s been eight months since I posted my editorial questioning the relevance of food security to Vancouver, and it remains one of the most popular pages on our website. I obviously touched a nerve. And equally obviously, there’s no middle ground: I’m either on the “food security” bus or I’m a propagandist for big industry, cozying up to climate-change deniers.

But I have no argument with the principles of food security; my argument remains a question of language. As defined by the World Health Organization, food security refers to all those forces of globalization and industrialization that threaten the world’s ability to feed its inhabitants. But when the phrase migrates to local discussions, it spawns fuzzy thinking that threatens to derail important initiatives aimed at addressing poverty and hunger in Vancouver, and at defending agriculture’s vital role in a sustainable city.


There are at least three distinct challenges to local agriculture and to our ability to feed our own citizens, and we’ll never confront them head on as long as we mistakenly frame them as issues of “food security.”

Issue One: Urban hunger

A big chunk of Vancouver’s population does not have secure access to a regular source of nutritious food. However, this particular threat to daily nutrition is quite distinct from those forces behind the desertification of sub-Saharan Africa and the flight of rural agrarians to urban refugee camps.

Seventy thousand BC residents depend on food banks every month; 24 percent of Metro Vancouver’s children live in poverty. This is criminal. But the enemy here isn’t globalization or climate change; it’s a society that thinks it’s OK to rely on private-sector volunteers to feed the poor and the hungry.

If you really want to do something about feeding Vancouver’s hungry, get out and vote for politicians who believe government’s primary responsibility is ensuring that its citizens’ basic needs are met. And in the meantime—until we abolish a state-sanctioned poverty industry—get out and volunteer: share your wealth or your time with food banks and shelters.

Issue Two: Urban agriculture

Metro Vancouver and the Fraser Valley are blessed with some of the most fertile agricultural land in the province, and that land is under continual threat of urban development. This clearly is a “security” issue—one with clearly defined borders under threat from outside agents. But the enemy in this particular battle isn’t Monsanto or climate change; it’s politicians and developers who want to renege on a promise we all made in 1973 to preserve our farmland.

In addition to the battle to save the Agricultural Land Reserve, community gardens are a great way to remind urban dwellers that agriculture is just as vital to a diversified economy as any other industry.

Issue Three: Globalization

Global warming will exert increasing pressure on BC farmland as we’re called on to feed a growing number of climate refugees. And global economic forces can be blamed for making farming in BC an unappealing career choice for future generations.

This is where you can unleash the full fury of your anger and frustration at the agents of globalization: boycott genetically modified food; eat local; support NGOs leading the battle to reverse global warming. Hell, plant a community garden.

But let’s not confuse urban agriculture with food security: rooftop gardens are not going to feed Vancouver’s poor. They are not going to reverse climate change or displace the multinational food conglomerates.