Thursday, December 4, 2014

Affordable Chicken for Nunavut

Small flock poultry farming can't solve the entire food security catastrophe in Canada, but we can help.  Chicken, by definition, is the lowest cost meat to produce; supplying high quality protein and fat for the diet at an affordable price.  I believe affordable small flock chicken can help Rankin Inlet, all small communities in Nunavut, and the rest of Canada.

For example, early explorers found Canada's Eskimo populations to be very healthy in the 1850 to 1900's, in spite of the Eskimo's minimal use of dietary fruits and vegetables.  Country meats (ie. meats from hunting wild game) are excellent foods, but today they're somewhat more difficult and more expensive to hunt that 100 years ago.

A high carb diet creates too many AGE's (advanced glycation end products) and other nasties that have significant negative health consequences for humans.  AGE's and other bad metabolytes require heavy doses of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidents to neutralize the negative effects of a high carb diet.  If you don't sufficiently neutralize these metabolytes from a high carb diet, you significantly increate your risk of disease.  In some ways, it's almost impossible to eat enough fruits & vegetables to overcome the negative impact of high carb diets.

Diets based mainly on country meats and/or chicken, combined with a low carbohydrate lifestyle (less than 60 grams /day of carbs), reduces the need for other dietary vitamins and minerals by 100 to 1,000 times.  .

High protein and high fat diets with some green leafy vegetables can make for a balanced, healthy diet which is affordable, even in Rankin Inlet, Nunavut, and other Far North communities.

Vegetables are very expensive, and getting more so all the time; especially in the Far North.  Many of the commercially grown vegetables are more and more depleted of the vitamins and minerals they used to contain 50 years ago (see the sad tale of potatoes, carrots, brocolli, and other veggies in Blog posting Food Fight ).  We pay more $/kg., but get less nutrients per kg of vegetables, so we get killed by the multiplicative effect of these two factors combined.

Chicken, grown locally by small flock farmers may offer a key solution to affordable food and healthy diets for Canadians.

Figure 1:   All weather chicken coop for small flock
poultry farming, designed and prototype under
construction by Glenn Black, a small flock poultry
farmer (author of this Blog, and President of Small
Flock Poultry Farmers of Canada
).  This coop will
keep poultry safe and comfortable in any weather from
+ 40 deg C to -40 deg C in far North climates by using
just the sun. Supplemental fossil fuels can be used for
weather colder than -40 degC. 
For example, the 10 ft. x 10 ft. all-weather chicken coop prototype design shown in Figure 1 can be placed virtually anywhere in any Canadian backyard or community.  This coop can raise up to 650 chickens per year, which yields a steady supply of fresh chickens.  This coop can yield about 750 kg. per year of fresh, safe, nutritious, affordable chicken meat.  That is enough to feed 22 people for a year at the average Canadian consumption of chicken meat per Statistics Canada. How many coops do you need for your family, neighbourhood, or community?

Unfortunately, Canada's Supply Management rules currently make implementation of this all-weather chicken coop system very difficult or impossible.  Small flock poultry farmers are discriminated against and prevented from helping their community with the significant production of affordable, nutritious food.

Unfortunately, the Supply Management system in Canada, as designed and enforced by the Federal and Provincial governments, has created 2,700 multi-millionaire chicken farmers, oppresses and abuses small flock poultry farmers, and heaps windfall profits into the corporate coffers of billion dollar Big Ag. multi-national corporations; all of which is paid for by Canadian consumers.  Canadians pay retail chicken prices that are 50% to 300% higher than the rest of the world.  No wonder we have severe food insecurity in rural, remote areas, the Far North, and the urban poor.

Some Far North communities receive subsidized foods through the Federal government program Nutrition North.

Note that many Far North communities are not eligible for Nutrition North subsidies because they didn't participate in the previous Food Mail program, or other reasons.  In addition, the Nutrition North funding is limited, so once the Federal budget of Nutrition North has been spent, the subsidy comes to an end until the next fiscal year.

What are Nunavut grocery shoppers supposed to do then, when the subsidy runs out before the end of the year?

For an example of why food price subsidies are needed, Grist mentions that chickens sell in Nunavut grocery stores for $65 per pound ($143.00 per kg), so I calculate that a 2 kg whole chicken would be $286.00 in the retail grocery store.  This sounds far worse than other reports I have seen (others say $85 for a 2 kg chicken, or $42.5/kg), so perhaps Grist has a typo error, or they meant $65/kg, or it refers to the non-subsidized prices.

Even with the subsidy, significant amounts of imported (and subsidized) food ends up rotting on Nunavut grocery store shelves because it's still too expensive, subsidized or not.  Nunuvut stores may over-buy, as they don't bear the full consequences, so subsidized food is discounted just before its Best Before date, then the surplus is dumped in the local landfill.  What a waste of food and taxpayers dollars while people in that same community are malnourished, or on a starvation diet.

It seems Nutrition North subsidizes the importation of food, as contrasted to subsidizing what is actually sold to consumers.  If true, perhaps that sad fact could (and should) spark a change that would improve the Nutrition North system.  Retailers must ensure that they buy what they need, no more, and be sure to get it sold before its Best Before date expires.

Unfortunately today, some of this subsidized food ends up at the dump, where the most vulnerable can finally afford this expensive, subsidized food that is discounted to "free for the taking" at the hamlet's garbage dump.

I also understand the retailer's side of the issue, that they risk customers waiting until the food is discounted 50% off as the Best Before date approaches, or pick it up for free once expired; thereby collapsing the grocery store to a free Food Bank.  Obviously, the solution has to be carefully designed.  It doesn't seem that Nutrition North meets that criteria.

Another example of unaffordable food in Nunavut is provided by Price Is Right Nunavut.  This Blogger provides a picture of a 1.5 kg meat tray of 4 chicken legs & thighs for $9.74 (which I assume is the Nutrition North subsidized price), which calculates out to be $6.49/kg.; described as 77% more expensive than Toronto ON chicken prices.

I think most people understand that average wages in Nunavut are a small fraction of the wages available in Toronto.  If food is expensive in Toronto (bad enough), it becomes impossible in Nunavut (ie. can't get much worse).

In the end, Canada (the planet's 6th richest nation) has third or fourth world conditions of food insecurity for a significant portion of its population. 

APTN's video documentary "Wasting Away" has an in-depth investigation on affordable food in Nunavut, summarized in a 24 minute video well worth your time.  This video includes:
  • Interview with Deputy Mayor Sam Tutanuak of the hamlet of Rankin Inlet's, located on the West coast of Hudson Bay in Nunavut.  Sam re-confirms that Elders and children are regularly scavenging food from the town's dump as they are unable to afford to purchase adequate food from the grocery store.
  • Interview with Ms Lucy Wiebe, an Elder in Rankin Inlet, who confirms many of the allegations by the Deputy Mayor, including that she has found children scavenging food at the dump.  Lucy relates how it regularly costs her about $400/wk for groceries for feeding just her husband and herself.  Lucy cannot get ahead of the financial burden for food, and is always worried about affording food for their next meal.  In other words, Lucy has first hand experience, both as a child and now as an Elder, with food insecurity.
  • 70% of Inuit pre-schoolers have food insecurity
  • Headlines on news media and academic reports, that Deputy Mayor Sam Tutanuak confirms, such as:
    • "Inuit go hungry more than any other Indigenous group",
    • "Inuit food shortage worst in developed world", and
    •  "Poverty is making people sick because they can't afford food"
  • Oliver De Shutter, UN Special Envoy speaking about his report to the UN General Assembly on food affordability in Canada's North at a press conference said:

    "I believe that in this respect Canada is in violation of its international obligations."
  • Video of one elder in the process of scavenging food from the town's dump
  • Nutrition North has a budget of about $60 million per year for subsidizing food costs in the Far North  (eg. 56.2% price subsidy for 2% fluid milk sold at $7.79 for 4 litres vs. non-subsidized price of $17.77; $3.45/kg for cooking onions, English cucumbers  with a subsidized price of $2.75 each)
  • $19,000 /yr for the typical family grocery bill in Nunavut, but the half of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 per year

  • Facebook group  for Feeding My Family has numerous stories and pictures of the struggle faced by Canadian families to feed themselves.
  • People race to the Nunavut dumps to get the best selection of dumped food before their neighbours get it all.  Even here, there is competition from the seagulls and other hungry people.
  • Half of Nunavut families are estimated to have food insecurity problems.
  • Prof. Frank Tester, University of British Columbia says Federal Government colonization got started in the 1940's when famines in the Far North killed many people.  The government's response was to move people to hamlets, and build external dependency on imported foods, rather than hunter-gatherer lifestyle and country food (ie. wild game from hunting).  Prof. Tester confirms that people scavenge food at the garbage dump.
Matthew Coutts of Yahoo News reported on this issue, where he quotes from the“Hunger in Nunavut,” report released by Action Canada, included this first-hand account:
“My heart broke into pieces when I saw them eating at the dump[, I] took them home and fed them good, told them next time when you’re hungry come to my place…kid had tears and said thank-you softly.”
Ms Leona Aglukkaq, MP for Nunavut was caught reading the newspaper while MP's were trying to question her in Parliament about Nunavut residents having to eat out of the local dump.  She has previously denied on a repeating basis most reports of severe food insecurity in her riding of Nunavut.  Most unfortunate, going way beyond just the bad optics.

Once we determine the real truth of the food security matter for Canadians, perhaps then the powers that be will consider solutions, even the ones proposed here on this Blog.

For other solutions to food insecurity, see one or more of our 321 postings on this important issue for Canadians.



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