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Putting food on the table for discussion

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The fall always elicits thoughts of harvest — laying in the stores before winter hits, and here we are just waiting for the first snows of winter to dress our town in its glistening white attire.

Many of us celebrated Canadian Thanksgiving with a wholesome meal, hardly able to stuff the leftovers into our fridges. And next weekend, Whistler will help its U.S. neighbours celebrate their Thanksgiving as they travel to the resort to vacation.

Added to these thoughts of plenty is, of course, the amazing celebration of all things food and beverage that Whistler is enjoying at Cornucopia this week.

It is an interesting juxtaposition, then, to learn this week of the latest food bank numbers for Canada.

The Hunger Count 2016 report from Food Banks Canada found that every province had an increase in need except Ontario and Manitoba, and some provinces saw double-digit spikes. British Columbia saw 103,464 people helped. Of those, 32.2 per cent were children. Overall this year, there has been a 3.4-per-cent rise since last year and a whopping 32.5-per-cent increase since 2008.

We don't have 2016 food bank stats for Whistler, but we know that in 2015, food-bank use increased by nine per cent.

More than 2,400 Whistler people used the food bank last year — out of a population of roughly 10,000 permanent residents. And of those, about 25 per cent have lived in Whistler for 10 years or longer. And more than 600 of those were children.

I was struck when the 2015 results came out by the fact that 24 per cent of the users were over 50 years old. Obviously, most users are young adults, but realizing that older people access the food bank too struck a chord — somehow normalizing this resort that we call home.

In Whistler, most people visit the food bank only a couple of times a year and the No. 1 reason for use here is injury or illness — the food, a stop-gap measure as recovery is underway. Young workers coming here can end up paying out of pocket if injured, as a single visit to the emergency can cost a non-Canadian $750 up front.

However, 32 per cent of those surveyed also listed mental health issues as a reason to visit the Whistler Food Bank.

When it comes right down to it, Whistler is like thousands of small towns across the nation and its issues come from many common problems such as the pure struggle for survival in an increasingly expensive landscape.

For years, we have heard the call for higher wages. That governments are legislating poverty by not having a minimum wage closer to $15 and that governments need to step up with more social housing.

But it goes beyond that. As a whole, it appears that our society over decades has accepted that feeding those in need should fall on the shoulders of charity and thousands of volunteers. We have passively, or maybe not, accepted that it is not the state's role to deal with food security. A government's role seems to be increasingly to do with the mechanics of running a province or country, not really looking after its most vulnerable citizens.

How else can you explain the deplorable situation that many of our Indigenous people find themselves in across Canada — and in B.C. as well?

Food education is also part of the long-term solution. It was heartening to see classes offered to youth this year at Cornucopia to teach them about how to use basic ingredients. All too often, people want to cook from packets — processed and pricey — simply because they are unfamiliar with cooking from scratch.

Funnily enough, social media may be helping out with this. My kids actually send me ideas of things they want to eat based on recipes they see prepared on social media in under a minute. And you know what, we get the ingredients and whip it up and most of the time the meals, though simple, are pretty satisfying.

Canada has also seen steady increases in the price of all foods, including staples like rice and flour — I'm sure everyone remembers the rise of the poor cauliflower as the poster cruciferous of veg inflation last year. But studies show that food prices have been going down globally.

With Canada importing 80 per cent of its produce, the weak Canadian dollar is one reason the price of what's on our plates is climbing, Evan Fraser, a global expert in food security and Canada Research Chair in the University of Guelph's geography department, told Yahoo Finance's blog site earlier this year.

"There has been a real decline in the Canadian food processing industry," Fraser said. "We have lost capacity to produce and process fruit and vegetables domestically, which means we're particularly vulnerable to international market shocks such as a drop in currency.

"There has been a significant decline in food processing jobs and factories and in the number of acres our farmers plant fruit and vegetables on.

"Canadian consumers are exposed like never before to problems on international food markets."

So, as we enjoy these final days of one of our favourite food celebrations, let's also talk about food security in our community and how we can keep the conversation going on eradicating hunger.

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