Saturday, June 23, 2012

Food and the City by Jennifer Cockrall-King

Earlier this month, the city of Whitehorse was completely cut off by road for several days due to washouts, flooding and mudslides across the Yukon. News services published photos of empty grocery store shelves in Whitehorse. Supermarkets carry only an illusion of abundance. Grocery stores at any given time in any North American city are stocked with only about 3 days worth of food. If transportation routes to a city are cut off due to natural disaster, unusual weather, terrorism, fuel shortage or whatever, people living in that place will face a major food crisis.

"If that is not sobering enough, consider that there are a mere five corporations behind 90 percent of the US food supply." Americans typically pay the lowest ratio of income-to-food in the world (9.4% of disposable income), but that's because the industrial food system hides the real costs. The effect of industrial agriculture on the environment is not factored into the cost of food. Neither are social and health costs. The "cheap-food diet has rendered two out of three Americans overweight and strains the healthcare system to the breaking point." The solution? Growing food in cities.

Edmonton author Jennifer Cockrall-King found exciting examples of urban agriculture in cities across North America as well as in Europe and Cuba. So much of our population is urban and it just makes sense to grow food where we live. Vegetables, mushrooms, fruit, honey, nuts, eggs and fish can be easily produced in an urban environment. (Exactly the kind of ingredients that contribute to a healthy diet.) For people who do not have time or space for gardens of their own, there are more and more urban farmers offering ultra-fresh, very local produce.

In my own yard in Edmonton, where we average
only 140 frost-free growing days in a year, I
am pleased to have apples, cherries, raspberries,
highbush cranberries, saskatoons, strawberries,
rhubarb, hazelnuts, and various perennial herbs,
as well as vegetables (seen here).
Government action and policies make a big difference in the urban agriculture movement. Cockrall-King documents success stories, such as London's ambitious initiative to source food for the 2012 Olympics locally. "There will be an estimated 25,000 loaves of bread, 232 tons of potatoes, 75,000 liters of milk, 19 tons of eggs and 330 tons of fruit and vegetables consumed in the Olympic Village during the games." Other stories are not so happy. The 13-acre South Central Farm, created in Los Angeles to help unite a battered neighbourhood after the Race Riots of 1992, was a community success that came to a tragic end in 2006. View the trailer of the award-winning documentary, The Garden, here.

Food and the City: Urban Agriculture and the New Food Revolution, published in 2012 , pulls together a lot of information that hasn't been collected into one book before. I hope that it will inspire even more innovations in urban food production. I also hope that there will be future, updated editions complete with colour, rather than black and white, photos. See Cockrall-King's website here.

Readalike: The Omnivore's Dilemma (Michael Pollan) and Fast Food Nation (Eric Schlosser).


Claire G said...

I love that line: "Supermarkets carry only an illusion of abundance." Is this the writer whose award was announced at last year's non-fiction festival in Edmonton?

Lindy said...

Yes, Cockrall-King won the Dave Greber Freelance Book Award, a Canadian national award that recognizes excellence in social justice writing.

Jennifer Cockrall-King said...

Hi Lindy! I'm so glad you enjoyed my book and thanks for that reminder / link to the situation up in the Yukon. And of course, thanks for helping to spread the word about my book. My book is on the LitFest 2012 summer reading list (just pointing it out because you can win tix to events at LitFest 2012 this October) and there will be a big food security / urban ag event on the LitFest schedule that I think you might enjoy. Go to litfestalberta dot org, and sign up for the newsletters or keep checking the blog. Anyway, glad you enjoyed the book. Hope to see you at LitFest in YEG!

Lindy said...

Jennifer, I look forward to hearing you at Edmonton's Litfest in October.