Food Charters; --A model for positive political and social evolution-- ;

A Food Charter for Prince Albert
--A model for positive political and social evolution--

an essay by Gerald Regnitter, a member of the Prince Albert Food Charter Committee,  submitted to CCPA SaskNotes

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Since the very beginning of human beings on this planet, survival in a hostile and challenging environment has depended on the capacity of humans to work together in new and creative ways, overcoming challenges and threats to their existence, and supporting their collective survival needs.

Over thousands of years humanity’s best collective efforts have created civilization itself, and have generated the technological and sociological progress that has enabled humanity to survive and thrive.

The conviction that technology has progressed so far that it could easily take care of basic human needs with little additional human labour led social philosophers of the 1960's and 1970's to predict that the biggest issue facing people toward the end of the 20th century was knowing what to do with the great amount of leisure time all of us would have.

Today those optimistic voices are muted and the reality of our experience has revealed a new truth. Technology has enabled the planet to produce more food than is needed by a burgeoning human population, contrary to predictions by population biologists who narrowly based their predictions on plant and animal models. What was not foreseen or predicted was the lack of political, sociological and community development that could ensure that food resources would be shared in a manner to ensure food security for all.

What has happened in many parts of the earth, and even within the very centres of the most prosperous urban communities of the first world, is that millions of people are food insecure, suffering from hunger and undernourishment.

In Canada, social commentators and even governments rail against the rising costs of providing basic health care services to all citizens, and threaten to remove basic health care from the economically marginalised yet few are prepared to acknowledge the proven link between poor health and poor nutrition and the huge economic implications this creates.

What happened?

Food production, storage and distribution have become part of a corporate and increasingly globalized economy. The “system” that we have depends on low cost energy, efficient and reliable transportation and free movement of foods on continental and even global levels. This system, as effective as it might be to meet the needs of those with economic means, has left out the economically and socially marginalised.

For the most part this has not been enough to mobilize the general citizenry to change the system. The intrinsic dangers for all of that very system have not been recognized.

The United Nations, in a 2002 declaration, tells us that “Governments have a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food.” Canada echoes that conviction through the Canada Action Plan for Food Security, which aims “to ensure a safe and nutritious food supply for all, finding economially and environmentally sustainable ways to increase food production, and promoting health and education.”

At the local level in Canada the citizens of three cities, Toronto, Saskatoon and Prince Albert have become so conscious of and concerned about basic food insecurity that they have created Food Charter Movements and have brought their respective City Governments to pass Food Charters.

In Prince Albert, during the summer of 2002, a Food Charter Working Group commissioned a study of the community food security situation. The findings of this study included the following observations that are quoted in the preamble to the Prince Albert Food Charter:

a. Almost one-quarter of families in Prince Albert have a yearly income of less than $20,000 ($45,700 is the Canadian average)

b. About 22% of all family units and 45% of unattached individuals in Prince Albert are classified as low income, compared to 14% and 38% respectively in the rest of the province.

c. Many low income families spend more than 30% of their income on rent, leaving too little for food and other essentials.

d. Low income urban residents often are required to provide hospitality to friends and family from out of town, increasing the stress on food budgets.

e. Efficient food purchasing, preparation and storage is often not possible for persons with small food budgets.

f. The centralization of retail food facilities seriously disadvantages those with limited means of transportation and child care.

g. In most cases when adults in the community, because of unhealthy behaviours, create food insecurity, children and other dependents also go hungry.

h. Citizens in our society, who are denied food, are denied the ability to participate fully in society.

i. A significant increase of “children at risk” creates real costs for people’s lives and for the economy of Prince Albert.

The Food Charter preamble contains the following reflections:

“In days past most Saskatchewan citizens lived on farms or on the land and were essentially self-sustaining with regard to food. Increased urbanization still was accompanied by a significant level of family based food production or food preparation and preservation. What was not produced locally was purchased and stored, and what could not be effectively stored domestically, was often warehoused within the larger community. As a result food security for citizens was largely under control of those same local citizens.

This is no longer the case. Most food consumed by our citizens is produced and processed many miles and even continents away. The local food retailers now rely on rapid and secure transportation to move food to retail shelves. The “local” food retailer is now likely to be a large corporate operation located half a city away from where we live. Domestic back yard gardens are virtually extinct, and the connection between rural food producer and urban consumer exists only by way of very complex and remote connections.

Food security citizens knew in the past no longer exists, with hardship to many and threat to all of our citizens. We trust that our world with low cost and efficient transportation and low cost foods will continue without interruption. The events of September 11, 2001, the restrictions on travel, transportation and global economies has proven just how easily this system is disrupted and how quickly food insecurity could be an issue for every citizen of our community. Having economic means will not ensure our health and food security if there is no food available or we cannot access it.

When the system fails to provide basic needs, it is always the economically disadvantaged who feel the negative effects first. We know that this is already the experience of many, and could be the experience of most if the underlying system of food production and food distribution to our community is not modified.

These concerns are real to all our citizens, and a responsible and responsive community will consider the situation and act prudently in the present to ensure the well being of our citizens into the future.”

The development of the Food Charter Movement in Prince Albert was a new and creative response to these concerns, but its roots are found deep within the community.

The Prince Albert Hunger Committee had been active for 20 years in bringing people together to deal with issues of hunger, poverty and mobilizing community resources to help with problems. This committee, with broad community representation, had organized Hunger Conferences in 1996, 1998 and 2001 and had facilitated many community-based responses to food and hunger needs.

In March 2002 representatives of this committee met with the Chamber of Commerce, and discussions about how different groups could cooperate to resolve problems led to the idea of creating a Food Charter for Prince Albert. This was seen as a new and effective vehicle for bringing together the many people and agencies that separately were dealing with elements of the larger issue.

A “Food For All Community Conference” was organised for October 2002. Over 100 citizens met and reflected on the nature and scope of the problem in Prince Albert, and then set about considering creative solutions to those problems. Ideas flowed freely and were collected and turned over to a smaller working committee. The identified issues and directions for making the situation better in the local arena were sorted out and organized into a draft Food Charter which would be presented to the City Council of Prince Albert for adoption. This would be a call to collective action, a vision for a better, more food secure community in the future, and a measuring stick of progress to meeting those goals.

The Charter recognizes the value of current initiatives which support some of the food security needs of the community and which are having positive outcomes. The Charter encourages a civic culture that encourages a greater degree of self sufficiency. Recognizing that highly centralized food retail services have created severe access problems for many, the community proposes solutions. Support for breast-feeding mothers, for seniors and for children is encouraged. Since many citizens lack food growing and food preparation skills, and that food storage is a problem for even more, the Charter encourages new initiatives to address these concerns. Public transportation policies are seen as critical elements to meeting food access concerns. Local individual and cooperative food production efforts with the support of civic government is supported as are new cooperative ventures between urban and surround rural residents and between urban and rural municipal authorities. The Charter encourages all public facilities and public organizations to use food policies that will be a model for good nutrition practices to all citizens.

Throughout the Food Charter expresses a positive “We can do it better by using our own resources in new and better ways, and we can do it here and do it now!” conviction.

Once the structure of the proposed Food Charter was in place, the Food Charter Working Committee called the larger community group together for a second conference in January 2003. Was this still the voice of the community? Had the vision and the energy displayed by the community at the “Food for All Conference” been captured by this Charter? The answer was a resounding YES!.

With this endorsement in place, the Food Charter Working Committee set out to present the Charter and the back grounder information to a wide range of community stakeholders, whose endorsements were solicited prior to a meeting with the Council of the City of Prince Albert. The positive response from these various stakeholder groups, including the local School Divisions, teacher and health groups, and the City’s Race Relations and Social Issues Committee, encouraged the group as it planned its presentation to the full City Council.

On March 24, 2022 the Mayor and Council of Prince Albert passed a resolution endorsing the Food Charter in principle, and referred it to City Administration for further study in conjunction with the members of the Food Charter Committee. The Administration is charged with the task of recommending to Council further courses of action resulting from consideration of the Charter.

While the process is essentially just beginning, it is beginning well! The creative vision of the community has been articulated in a Food Charter, and this vision is already forging new cooperative alliances within the community in an effort to improve the food security of all citizens. The vision recognises that solutions will require the cooperative interaction of the urban community with the surrounding rural communities, and to some degree, the support of more senior levels of government as well. However, the current focus is on what the citizens of Prince Albert can do for themselves. The focus is on “thinking and doing outside of the box” of conventional and traditional approaches.

The positive human spirit that has brought humanity to its greatest achievements of mutual support and creative social evolution is in full bloom in Prince Albert. A growth and spread of this positive social and political evolution will finally enable technological advances to realize the goal of food security for all.


The Prince Albert Food Charter as a PDF document  You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file

Toronto Food Charter as a PDF document.  You need Adobe Acrobat Reader to view this file.

Saskatoon Food Charter  as HTML   is a link to a site with a lot of background information on food security topics.

If clicking on the PDF links does not work, you may need to right click on the PDF links, and with Microsoft's Internet Explorer, click "save target as"  or "save link target as" if you are using Netscape, to download it to your desktop or other location. Then open it from there with your Acrobat Reader program or other program able to open PDF files.

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