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24th Aug2011

IN THE PRESS: Examining Barriers and Solutions to Food Needs

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Photo credit: Arielle Godbout, Canstar News

Food Matters Manitoba wants to talk food in St. Vital.

The registered charity — which aims to promote healthy, sustainable and fair food for all — is getting ready to launch a community food assessment for the southeast Winnipeg neighbourhood.

Stefan Epp, the community food assessment co-ordinator for Food Matters Manitoba, said the goal of the assessment is to create a plan of community priorities for food matters in St. Vital.

“This isn’t just about all that is bad about food in St. Vital,” Epp explained. “It’s also about what is really good, and how can we build on it to address some of the problems.”

Epp said the food assessment is inspired by one that was recently produced in Winnipeg’s North End.

That project resulted in tangible results — such as a shuttle service to help people who wanted to shop at bigger grocery stores, but struggled with transportation.

“That’s sort of an example of how a food assessment identified a need that no one was very aware of before,” Epp said. “But because of the process they were able to identify it and find a solution.”
St. Vital might not seem like the most likely choice for the city’s next food assessment to some. Part of the problem, according to Epp, is that those people might not be looking at the bigger picture.
“St. Vital is a very diverse place, and it has both some of the wealthiest areas in the city, and — not so far away — some of the lower-income areas of the city,” he said.
Epp said statistics from the Manitoba Centre for Health Policy also show that both north and south St. Vital have among the highest percentages of overweight and obese people in the city, at 61% — far above the city-wide average of 52%.
The centre has also found that in north St. Vital, only 28% of the population is consuming the right amount of fruits and vegetables.

According to Epp, some groups within St. Vital may struggle more than others when it comes to eating healthy — low-income earners, single-parents, newcomers who may not know how to cook with the products they find at local grocery stores, and a growing seniors population.

“That’s another side of that coin. How do you provide support for seniors who are living alone or have mobility issues,” Epp said.

“Maybe their wives cooked for them, and now their wife has died, and they don’t have a clue.”

At the same time, Epp said, St. Vital has a thriving food economy — with about 160 food retailers identified — as well as a strong gardening community and farms just south of the Perimeter Highway.

“In a way, St. Vital is a little city unto itself,” he said.

A number of community organizations are expected to assist in the food assessment, including Youville Centre and Marlene Street Resource Centre.

Marie Boomer, administrative co-ordinator for the Marlene Street Resource Centre which serves a Manitoba Housing complex, said she was impressed by the results of the North End’s food assessment and is looking forward to the process being carried out in St. Vital.

“I just think it will be able to open the doors for the residents of St. Vital,” she said.

“It will help not just the residents but the storeowners and other businesses in the area about changing traditional ways of doing things.”

For example, she said, many of her clients can’t afford to buy items in bulk.

Boomer added St. Vital is the perfect area for a community food assessment.

“It’s thought of to be a very well-off community, but that’s only small areas.”

Epp said the community food assessment will involve focus groups and interviews with residents and service providers within St. Vital through the fall.

To participate, contact Epp at 943-0822 or stefan@foodmattersmanitoba.ca, or visit www.foodinstvital.ca for more information.

This article originally appeared in The Lance and was written by Arielle Godbout – arielle.godbout@canstarnews.com.

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