On November 14th, Food First NL and the Everybody Eats Leadership Team hosted a Provincial Planning Forum on Food Security. More than 90 collaborators from all over the province attended the forum and discussed ways to improve food security in Newfoundland and Labrador.

Forum participants unpacked the findings of a new report called “What We Heard: A Provincial Dialogue on Food Security in Newfoundland and Labrador.” The report is the culmination of a project launched by the Everybody Eats Advisory Committee, which collected responses to questions about food security from more than 900 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians through 26 events, 2,200 hours of discussion, and an online survey.

“The level of engagement we’ve had through Everybody Eats illustrates how important the issue of food security and access to healthy, local food is for people across the province,” said Kristie Jameson, Executive Director of Food First NL. “So many important issues and opportunities were raised through the engagement process, now we’re eager to shift from engagement to action…”

The report outlines some alarming facts about the number of people living with food insecurity in our province. For example, Newfoundland and Labrador has the highest rate of food bank usage of any the Canadian provinces.

The document highlights three themes that came up again and again in conversations about food security in our province; local food production, access to healthy food, and education, awareness and food skills.

Local Food Production

Many participants brought up the need for more local food production both at the commercial and community level, as a way of decreasing our dependence on outside food sources. Food that is shipped in from outside the province is often more expensive and of a lesser quality than food produced in Newfoundland and Labrador. The report mentions that more than 80% of the province’s seafood production is exported and 90% of Newfoundland and Labrador’s fresh vegetables are grown outside the province.

Access to Healthy Food

Participants also said they found less-healthy options were often more affordable and more readily available than healthier options. The report states, “For every 10,000 Newfoundlanders and Labradorians there are 14 fast food outlets, 8 corner stores, 4 gas stations with stores, and 3 grocery stores.” Food First NL’s 2015 “Everybody Eats NL Discussion Paper” explains that one of the impacts of the low density of grocery stores in our province is that people living in rural areas often have to travel a long way to reach a grocery store. This means it’s often easier and more affordable to shop at convenience stores, which are more likely to stock a small selection of highly processed items with a longer shelf life.

Education, Awareness and Food Skills

The report also calls for more formal education and public awareness initiatives designed to teach people about food security, healthy eating, and food skills. Participants pointed out that kids could be “…learning about food security, healthy eating, nutrition, and building food skills – including cooking, gardening, food preservation, fishing, and wild food harvesting…” in school beginning as early as kindergarten and continuing right up to grade twelve.

Get Involved

At the forum, attendees discussed how to begin taking action on improving food security in our province based on the information in the report.

“The forum was really intended to bring together a diverse group of people to present what we heard through the engagement process and figure out what to focus in on and tackle,” Jameson said. “By the end of day we had engaged people in identifying a number of different actions opportunities.”

Jameson said she left the meeting feeling excited about the work around food security that will be happening in our province in the coming months. She invited anyone who is interested in learning more or becoming involved to get in touch through the Food First NL website.