This article is by Calgary Food Bank CEO James McAra. Watch for more from James as he discusses food issues and impacts on our community. You can also follow James and No Hunger in YYC on Twitter.
That’s what it felt like here, at the food bank, during the flood and the years after. We know our environment, we know our job: emergency food. But often, we’re left in the dark during our city’s emergencies — and subsequent emergency planning — and all we can do is navigate through the darkness as best we can.
When people plan for an emergency, or during an emergency, we find food is left out. It’s often an unspoken expectation that food will be part of an emergency response (social and otherwise).
In reality, it’s not. It’s an afterthought.
In Canada when an emergency erupts we see shelter, clothing, funds, water, equipment and volunteers arrive. When we see food, it comes as snacks and water for workers or volunteers, but seldom in the necessary volumes or variety to address those impacted by the emergency who must continue eating. It is even truer when the shock of crisis erodes self-care and well-being.
Here at the Calgary Food Bank, our vision and our focus is to work together to create a hunger-free community. We were founded as a coordinated response to an emergency of large-scale layoffs in the 1980s, but until more recently have become a food hub for emergency response all around the country — sending food (4.2 million lbs. last year alone) all over Canada during times of crisis.
The Philosophy of Food Project was shared with me by my colleague, Jeremy Tuff. One part specifically made me really read, re-read, think and then re-read again:
Food can be complex but the important part is we are beginning to see:
- Food policy discussed (sometimes even legislated)
- Food access rising on the collective radar
- Food Banks increasingly recognized as the “canary in the coalmine,” giving up-to-date information about impact on community health relative to food and hunger
- Food slowly becoming a lens through which we plan our communities, no longer an afterthought based on retail space.
The food bank needs to be a part of this collective conversation, whether it’s everyday emergency food distribution to people in need, feeding hundreds of thousands of hungry or displaced people going through disasters like the 2013 Alberta floods, or just being at the table when prepping for future emergencies.
Food is a non-negotiable in life; emergencies are no exception. We are and will do our best to be here for this city in the best way we can and push our way into these conversations, if necessary. Our future depends on it.