Another season, another PechaKucha, this one about food. It was appropriate that this event fell during autumn, a time of harvesting and preparing food for the long winter. YK Food Matters was a collaboration between the Yellowknife Farmers Market, the NWT Recreation and Parks Association, and the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. We received support from the GNWT Department of Industry, Tourism, and Investment.
The title of the evening’s event, YK Food Matters, was meant to highlight the biological, social, and cultural import of food. Food matters to our health and wellbeing, as individuals and as a community. The title was also a reminder of the environmental, cultural, economic, political, and social aspects of how we gather, produce, process, distribute, consume, and dispose of food, or “food matters.”
We used the idea of the food system to organize the evening’s presentations. A food system is the path that food travels from the land to our plates and beyond. It includes the growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, transporting, distributing, marketing, consuming, and disposing of food. It also includes the inputs and outputs of each step, including labour, equipment, fuel, and waste. The graphic below is one way to represent a food system.
[Graphic Credit: Nourish (www.nourishlife.org).]
Food systems, as this image illustrates, are multi-faceted and complex. There is no way we could cover every part of the food system in one night. Rather YK Food Matters was intended as a sampling of different components of the food system, a tapas PechaKucha, so to speak.
Shortly after 7, Master of Ceremonies Mark Hyeck introduced the first speaker, Tracey Williams, and we were off! In her presentation entitled “Food Charter and Food Security, Making the Connections,” Tracey introduced the audience to the Yellowknife Food Charter. A food charter is a document developed by community members and endorsed by decision makers that articulates a local vision for a just and sustainable food system. In explaining the origins of Yellowknife’s food charter, Tracey also fleshed out the idea of a food system and food security.
In “Decolonizing Consumption,” Peyton Straker described her apprenticeship as a hunter and the lessons she learned as she butchered and shared the meat. She also talked about the different ways in which she uses the animals and plants she harvests: dry fish, moose hides, muskox jewellry, and spruce gum salve, to name just a few. Peyton’s presentation shed light on the harvesting of animals, plants, and medicines as acts of food security and decolonization.
If you were at the final Farmers Market in September, you may have picked up some swiss chard or potatoes from the Northern Farm Training Institute’s stall. Based in Hay River, NFTI supports the creation of local agricultural experts through in-depth hands-on learning experiences in “living classrooms.” This evening’s presentation about NFTI was to be delivered by organization president, Jackie Milne. Unfortunately, Jackie was unable to attend. France Benoit kindly stepped in to take her place. Entitled “Restoring Vitality Through Restoration Agriculture,” the NFTI presentation explored how growing plants and raising animals in a good way, or restorative agriculture, can heal people, communities, and the land. Restorative agriculture “produces food that comes from a healthy, diverse, abundant ecosystem.” It is a realistic alternative to the industrial food system that supports food sovereignty and security in the North.
The fourth speaker, Maxime Carpentier,was recently hired as the Food Service Manager at Avens. Maxime believes strongly in the importance of good quality food and his commitment is changing how residents at Avens eat. Maxime shared how he is making it a priority to source local food from Great Slave Lake whitefish to Yellowknife-grown tomatos to barrenland caribou. He is also experimenting with different preparations, such as smoking, and new recipes, to ensure that elders receive the food they know and love. Maxime’s presentation, “Little Changes, Better Quality!,” revealed how individuals and organizations can make sourcing decisions, which support local producers and are economically sound, not to mention delicious!
The evening continued on the theme of eating well with a presentation by Amy Lam, a lover of cooking and eating and a food photographer. In her presentation, “Northern Fancy Eats,” Amy described her Northern food journey from her earliest impression that Yellowknife was a food desert to her current passion for the rich and diverse food cultures of the NWT capital. Along the way, Amy participated in a NFTI course, tried her hand at growing, worked with the Farmers Market, diversified her cooking repertoire, and took some beautiful photos.
Food, to this point in the evening, had been described as sustenance, political, cultural, and pleasureable. The sixth speaker, Dr. Kyla Wright, a naturopathic doctor practicing at Gaia Integrative Clinic, demonstrated how food can also be medicine.Kyla’s presentation, titled “Food as Medicine in the 21st Century,” highlighted some of the problems with the industrial food system, such as the widespread use of sugar and the enormous distances that separate field from plate. The focus, however, was on the delicious and healthy foods that are close at hand for Yellowknife residents from trout to wild rose petals to dandelion root to chaga.
In 2014, Yellowknife’s Food Rescue diverted 14,000 kg of food waste, putting it in the hands and bellies of those in need. Grocery stores and mining camps donate items each day that have passed their best before date or are bruised, damaged, or broken. A team of 30-odd volunteers and a part-time paid driver then sort, process, repackage, and redistribute the food to schools and local organizations like the Centre for Northern Families and the Salvation Army. Mona Durkee’s presentation, “Food Waste: From Rejection to 'a Peeling,’” revealed how Food Rescue is transforming the local food system, one bruised banana at a time.
The final speaker of the evening was Yellowknife’s Sustainability Coordinator, Chris Vaughn. Chris’ presentation, entitled “Organics Recycling in the North,” shed light on opportunities and challenges related to waste management in the Yellowknife. It also took the audience behind the scenes at the city’s compost facility. A key message from Chris’s presentation was that while waste diversion is important, waste reduction should be our primary goal.
In addition to eight amazingly interesting, informative, and funny stories about food in Yellowknife, the event featured a pop-up exhibit about Yellowknife food, past and present. There were photographs from the NWT Archives depicting moose hunts, market gardens, and food waste, as well as displays on northern food models, creative canning, the Yellowknife Food Charter, and local food sourcing at Co-op.
Keep an eye out for the fourth and final PechaKucha Night of 2016: #LovetheLand, which will take place on Thursday, December 8.
Did you miss YK Food Matters? Don't despair. We recorded the presentations. They are available here.