Monday, 10 September 2012

Nunavut Canada's Food Insecure Find Help, Community Through Facebook

From National Public Radio


We've been giving a lot of virtual ink to the problem of food insecurity lately — the challenges people face when they frequently can't put enough food on the table. And sometimes it seems like an insurmountable problem.

Take the city of Iqaluit, in Canada's largest territory, Nunavut, just a few hundred miles south of the Arctic Circle. There's no highway, so in the grocery store, a few slices of watermelon can cost $12, heads of cabbage can go for $28, and people sometime stretch cans of meatballs and noodles out for a week. Plus, it has become more expensive for the Native people — the Nunavummiut — to hunt the traditional foods that have sustained them for 4,000 years.

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Can you imagine spending $12 for a just few slices of watermelon? In the Canadian territory of Nunavut, shipping costs continue to drive up the cost of food while residents slide further into poverty. Can community members use a Facebook group to solve the problem?

Leesee Papatsie stands in her kitchen, slicing whale and arctic char on sheets of recycled cardboard laid across the table. Her steady hand rolls a small curved blade, a traditional arctic knife called an ulu, in quick but calculated strokes.

Papatsie, a mother of five in Iqaluit, Nunavut, Canada's largest territory, calls her family over to eat, stealing bites for herself as she chops. Arctic char is one of the primary fish caught in the bays around the area – Papatsie prepares it raw, like the whale. Narwhal skin and blubber make up a dish called muktuk, a traditional Inuit delicacy that has a thick, rich taste, like penne noodles in butter. Today, her family dips it in soy sauce. Dried fish and muktuk are just a few of the "country foods" of the north and are part of the traditional diet of the Nunavummiut people that has sustained them for the last 4,000 years. This particular meal has a dual purpose: it's an edible homage to Papatsie's Inuit heritage and is one of the only ways to avoid soaring food prices at local stores.

Nunavut is the largest Canadian territory and the only one inaccessible to the rest of North America by highway. As such, the high costs of transportation drive up prices on any goods that aren't produced locally. That means it's staggeringly expensive to live here, which becomes obvious in the community's grocery aisles where four slices of prepackaged watermelon can cost upwards of $12 and heads of cabbage can climb to more than $28.

In early June, Papatsie created the "Feeding My Family " Facebook group to bring attention to the high cost of keeping food on family tables across Nunavut. It's since attracted more than 20,000 members who have organized protests outside of local stores, promoted a return to traditional diets and generated a global press cycle. "I'm worried about the kids that go to bed hungry," Papatsie says. "I worry about the elders going hungry. I'm going to keep going until the people start to stand up."

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