In this day and age, many of us spend a considerable amount of time thinking about our wellbeing. We join gyms, attend yoga classes, and keep up to date on the latest food trends, yet few of us understand the enormous impact that our food system has on our health.
“The food system determines what we eat.” explains Dr. Catherine Mah, Assistant Professor of Health Policy at MUN’s Faculty of Medicine. “Our food choices are shaped by the food that is available, accessible and affordable to us where we live, work, and play. This is called the food environment. Our food environment affects our diet and also our health.” The Food Policy Lab at MUN was launched this year and is led by Dr. Mah. It aims to unearth and grow successful innovations that are happening within the food system.
According to Statistics Canada, Canadians spend seventy cents of every dollar on food in a retail store. With only four major supermarket chains controlling approximately 80% of all food retailing, our choices are very controlled and limited. Yet, small to mid-sized independent food retail stores are also key players in the retail distribution system. “These businesses are real assets to our food system. The community connections among those businesses create a vibrant environment which has an impact on our health,” shares Dr. Mah.
Healthy Corner Stores NL is a new collaboration by the Food Policy Lab, the Food Security Network of NL, and Eastern Health. Its vision is to make it good business sense for corner stores to improve their selection of high quality, healthy, affordable food. The goal of the initiative is to work with small business owners to think through their business models and make changes at the store level and the policy level that will positively impact both the store owners and the community.
While work in this area has been undertaken in other parts of Canada and the United States, this initiative is the first of its kind in the province. “What I think is exciting is that the Healthy Corner Stores model is really rooted in place. It’s rooted in local community. Small store owners have more capacity to innovate [than the big food industry giants]and can be much more responsive to the local market. This is good for our food system and good for our health” explains Dr. Mah.
Newfoundland has the highest number of convenience stores per capita in Canada so this makes them an important part of our food system.
The team have just selected a convenience store here in the province to pilot the model. The announcement will be made at a later date. Newfoundland has the highest number of convenience stores per capita in Canada so this makes them an important part of our food system. On June 12th, a group of stakeholders will meet for a design workshop to think though the Healthy Corner Store model in the provincial context. On Saturday, June 13th, there will be a free public event called “The Food in this Place” at Rocket Bakery, designed to talk about our food environment. Participants will work in teams to go out and assess our food environment, then return to the Rocket for discussion and lunch.
The enthusiasm for the project is evident when talking to Dr. Mah about the Healthy Corner Store model. “We’re doing it because we really believe in creating a healthy, local, sustainable food supply. Good food makes good business sense and makes good sense for our health too.”