A Day In The Life

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?

 

Peppers, Grapes, and Pomegranates

 

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.

 

Family's farm land: one harvested, one about to be

 

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.

 

The Little Hero

 

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!

 

Specialized in Olives

 

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?

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A Day In The Life

4 thoughts on “A Day In The Life

  1. wourliem says:

    Thanks Taouba for sharing Algeria’s approach to food.

    “What do you think is keeping Canada from achieving food goals?”

    The entrenchment of the Canadian system is, in part, generational: My grand parents grew up in a time where food preparation and collection would be more like Algeria. People would have local sources, gardens, nearby farms would be self-sufficient but small. Part of the post war suburbanization of North America involved a new way of life for these people that separated rural and urban, production and consumption. Time was saved by canned goods (Spam anyone?), TV dinners, and eventually the proliferation of super markets and shopping malls.

    My parents grew up in this environment, divorced from agrarian lifeways and time-consuming activities their parents would have known (simple ex: a farm chicken, you kill, pluck, clean then prepare has more steps than a store bought chicken {you can‘t keep live chickens in your suburb anyway}).
    What does this separation mean? For me, it means there are many people (Canadians) who are fine with the current system having either happily adopted it or grown up with it. In fact, there are many who increasingly eat store prepared foods; who look for time savings in their day and food prep is a place they get them. I wonder how many people have the “goal” of better food than the status quo in society?

    I doubt government(s) (Canada) is concerned with food outside the provisions of the CFIA.

    “…is there a way for us to change the system?”

    I think current North American culture, with free trade, large industrial farming, food distribution systems, individuals’ time constraints and economies of scale prevent change. It maybe cheaper to produce canned peaches in China and move them to Canada, than to produce peaches in BC and move them throughout Canada. Without trade barriers, there are no import taxes and that essentially allows production in China a leg up on Canadian production because of lower cost inputs. China has a warm climate with multiple growing seasons along with a large labour force working on low wages to add value to products. There is sufficient industrialization and infrastructure to distribute via global container shipping a finished product, which moves off a ship onto a truck/train out to a food distribution centre. Such a place can divide finished products to various locations at an equally large economy of scale and volume. These parcels then arrive in Regina, prepared to be easily taken home, opened and consumed with only the use of a can opener.

    The initial steps to change will come with consumers choosing products that do not come from far away or are produced in a personally acceptable way. This is beginning among some people.

    I am curious, you described Algerian breakfast and it seemed similar to Egyptian breakfast, bread being the main part of that meal. Now, Egypt is the world’s largest importer of wheat because of the 80 million or so Egyptians many will subsist on bread day to day. I’m under the impression one of the main threats to order in Egypt are high bread prices. This summer, many news reports feared for the impact Egypt would feel when heat waves destroyed the Russian wheat crop.

    I am curious how different Algeria is from Egypt in dependence on foreign wheat? Do Algerians have a local supply of wheat? Is the difference in population size a significant factor?

    1. Taouba Khelifa says:

      wow thanks for your great and insightful comments. It’s always interesting to know what others think when Canada is compared to another country.

      To be honest with you, I am not sure of an exact percentage of how much wheat is produced in Algeria and how much is imported, but most of the wheat supply is Algerian based, whether it is produced in the central part of the country, or closer to the south.

      I have a friend actually who is from Egypt, and having been there this summer, she came back and told us how expensive everything was there – from the vegetables, to the meat, to the bread – the price of living in the country took a huge jump and left many people scrambling around trying to feed their families, which is quite unfortunate.

      Also when looking at Algeria and Egypt, I think the population size is a HUGE factor in food production, distribution and consumption. With more than 80 million people in Egypt, and just a small 33 million in Algeria, it’s harder to find land to dedicate to agriculture, when you need land to build homes and such. The land mass is also different – Algeria has a larger land mass with a smaller population than Egypt so that gives Algeria a bit of an advantage, agriculture wise.

      I do agree with you however, that it will be extremely hard to changed the “North American” mentality of food production and consumption. That being said, I have hope that it will change over time, as more people are informed and educated about the food system, and how it all works out. Then, when a change does occur, people can take a great example and learn a lot from countries who still hold on to the roots of their agriculture.

  2. Yolanda says:

    What a great post Taouba! I’ve been reading your posts with great interest.

    I’d like to share something that came up in the course of my academic research, which was on Saskatchewan’s community gardens and food sovereignty. In talking to a number of community gardeners in our three major urban centres (Regina, Saskatoon and Moose Jaw), it became quite clear that many, perhaps the majority, had a very close connection to rural Saskatchewan. Either they themselves had moved from a rural area or farm, or they were a generation removed but still had family ties to the farm. That familiarity and experience often meant that gardening, and sourcing their food from gardens or local producers, was completely normalized. In moving to the city, they wanted to keep that up and sought out community gardens.

    And yet I had a very interesting conversation with one elderly lady who had lived most of her life on a farm and could vividly remember the food and gardening lessons she learned from her mother (since it was primarily the women who tended kitchen gardens during that period). While she supported and practiced her own gardening, she was completely baffled by the concept of a 100 mile diet. She couldn’t imagine living with out some of the foods we now take for granted – bananas and oranges for example. It’s hard to grow bananas in your backyard in Regina! She would never go back to the monotony of eating only what you could produce in our limited climate and growing season. For her, that meant what ever you could store (can, dry or freeze) over the winter – no fresh salads, tender greens or tropical fruits.

    It’s interesting food for thought. In addition to asking whether our concerns are Western, I would also ask if there is something generational going on. Is our current interest in local food markets, 100 mile diets and organic foods something just for younger generations disconnected from the farm? After all, all of these were just “normal” for our grandparents and great grandparents.

    1. Taouba Khelifa says:

      Thank you very much Yolanda! And I hope you’ve been enjoying the posts!

      I would agree with you that this is a generational thing. We were having a discussion in class one day, discussing the decrease in the number of farmers in Saskatchewan and all around the world, and many students stated that farming was simply not as prestigious a job as it once was. Before, a farmer would have his/her children take over the farm and teach them the tricks of the trade. Now, the children want to move from the country to the big city, and get a ‘real’ job. We often forget where our food actually comes from (the farmer and the farm land not the grocery store!)

      I would also agree that its much more convenient to go to the store and know that what you need will be there, instead of having to wait for certain times of the year to get your apples, or your potatoes or what have you.

      That being said, I also think that when the time comes around where we can grow our own food, or when local farmers can begin to grow and sell their food, its important for us to support that initiative, and be a little independent in our food supply, rather than being dependent on China, Brazil and America to send us all our food, during all four seasons. We have beautiful springs and summers here in Regina so instead of going to Super Store to get our peaches or tomatoes, why not try to plant some ourselves, or better yet, why not drop by the farmers market and support some of the people who produce our food? I think we can balance both systems of production – the local and the corporate.

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