Ever since I started my course: Food, Hunger, and Social Justice, something has been bothering me. I may be wrong about this, but I wonder if our concerns with food and the way it’s grown, as well as the immense support for and move towards locally grown food is more of an issue in the Western world than it is elsewhere.
I was born in Algeria, a country that many in the west would consider to be a ‘less developed/industrialized’ country in the sense that it hasn’t caught up with Western culture, so to speak. Ironically, Algeria seems to have a better grip on its agricultural food system than most Western countries do. There is less concern about local food production and healthy homegrown food than in Canada. The concern that food is being mass-produced without the consumer knowing what goes into it is somewhat of a foreign concept in Algeria. It makes one wonder if the solution to the western ‘food crisis’ could actually be found in countries such as Algeria?
This past summer I visited Algeria. Today, I thought it would be interesting to examine one day of my trip, with food as the central focus.
So what is the food system like for most Algerian families?
A morning breakfast always consists of fresh bread straight from the bakery (you can still feel the warmth of the bread), jam, warm milk and coffee, and an assortment of homemade desserts. Most everything on the breakfast table was made from things in the garden, or bought from known farmers. A meal complete, within 100 miles of your home. While breakfast is an important part of the day, it’s preparations are simple, in comparison to lunch and dinner.
Lunch and supper are of equal importance in Algeria. The meals are home cooked and everyone helps in their creation: from my uncle who would pick the vegetables from his garden to my little cousin who would help to set the table. It is a family affair. Most of the fruits, vegetables, and meats that are used throughout the day are grown at home, or bought from local farmers who own large farm lands. While many of these farms have upgraded to using machinery to quicken the harvesting process, many still use human and animal labor to produce the food.
In Canada, we often hear of animal cruelty, especially in large farm corporations, where images of hens locked into tight cages, or cows stuffed into cramped stalls play in our minds. On the contrary, in Algeria, most farm animals roam freely, with their owners walking behind them, making sure they don’t wander off too far. On one of the trips we took, to visit the family countryside of Rahbat, goats were roaming around, enjoying the fresh water, green grasses, and the adventures they encountered every day. One goat was actually quite adventurous, and decided to take a risk and climb atop a small cliff – safely making it back to its owner, a happy chap! Later on, these goats will be sold off to locals, where their milk is turned into various dairy products, and their meat used in lots of traditional meals. It made me happy to see these goats roam freely, knowing that they enjoyed the earth’s bounties, just as we do. Their existence wasn’t just a purpose of profit for the owner.
For those living in larger cities, where they aren’t as lucky to have their own garden, there still is no worry. A trip down to Souq El Asr (Market of the Afternoon) or what is known in Canada as the ‘farmers market’ will allow you to choose from varieties of fruits, fish, veggies, and herbs. Here there are tables full of food, each seller hoping you will come to their table to purchase your next meal. With shopping bags full of the food you will need for today’s lunch and supper, you are well on your way to a family oriented, and fun packed meal!
As we took this quick peek into the Algerian lifestyle, and the relationship that people there have with their food, it is now time to turn the tables and look at Canada.
Could Canadian society benefit from exploring such food systems, as the ones present in Algeria, and learn from them how to go back to more healthy, homegrown foods? I think that Canada can definitely take a lesson from Algeria, and other countries on how they approach food, to better our own system. It’s true that in Canada, we have a largely varying climate, which many times, disadvantages our ability to grow lots of produce. However, there are many things that we could grow, but instead leave up to other countries to grow for us. British Columbia grows large amounts of cherries every year, but when we go to the supermarket, most of our cherries are imported from California. Why don’t we take advantage of the homegrown produce we have here, instead of relying on others to make our food? I think these are the types of questions that we, and our government, need to address. We do have the power to change our system, and take an example of other countries.
While Algeria is a doing well right now, I fear that with more Western influence globally, especially with regards to food, that the food system there will eventually face the problems experienced here today. Algeria’s agriculture is still very home based, but with the introduction of American style ‘grocery stores’ and large food corporations that have started importing foods such as mangos, mushrooms, and varieties of cheeses into the country, what I personally pride myself on as being a great and healthy (and I must admit delicious) food system will soon deteriorate into nothing more than plastic fruits and vegetables.
Now, it’s your turn: What are your thoughts on this issue? What do you think is keeping Canada from achieving food goals? And, is there a way for us to change the system?