Thinking food security “outside the box”

Johanna Tuglavina

I left my hometown of Nain in the year 2000 and returned nearly twelve years later, in November of 2011. When I returned home there were many visible changes, including changes in technology – for example, most households now have personal computers or laptops. This was not the case when I left. When I left, the only computers in town were in offices. There were perhaps seven vehicles in the entire town. Today, we cannot even cross the road without looking both ways, the amount of vehicles in the community has increased so much.

There are food items that were once not available in Nain. I recall being introduced to fresh milk for the first time in 1999. At the time, my boyfriend from Quebec was working as a chef at the hotel and requested to the Manager of the local store to order fresh milk. There is a funny story behind that. He had asked one of his co-workers in the kitchen: “Where’s the milk?” The co-worker handed him a tin of Carnation evaporated milk. Then he clarified: “No, where’s the fresh milk?” So the co-worker handed him a box of Grand Pré UHT milk. Jean-René realized that we don’t have fresh milk. This is all the milk we are familiar with, a tin of Carnation and Grand Pré milk.

Today, we can buy garlic, fresh herbs, fresh milk, and sweet potatoes. We have ready-made salads to purchase, romaine lettuce, Brie cheese, Parmesan cheese, all sorts of goodies that did not exist in Nain. Last year when I purchased cilantro, a local woman standing next to me at the counter asked: “What is that and what do you do with it? How do you cook with it?”

This may seem quite trivial to an outsider, but for someone such as myself, a local woman, it’s extremely significant. It means that I can choose to eat healthier if I want to and if I can afford it. But locals who may want to eat healthier and learn to eat new foods can only do so if they make a decent living. Unemployment, fixed incomes, and collecting unemployment insurance is quite common for the Nunatsiavut region and Nain is no exception. Furthermore, although we do have more healthy foods to purchase, we still pay high prices for foods that are no longer fresh.

I’ve had the privilege of touring and working at Voisey’s Bay. I worked there as a Cultural Awareness Facilitator when they were still in the construction phase of the project. I’ve since gone back last year for a tour and I tell you, the amount of healthy food that is readily available and how they have excellent gym equipment is amazing.

I believe it is a great thing to make sure that all employees who live and work at the mine site have comfortable amenities and good quality products. I agree with that totally. But it would be awesome if the companies or contractors who are making loads of money from resources in the region were able to contribute at least good quality gym equipment to each Nunatsiavut community. The reason I say this is because there are millions of dollars of resources that are shipped out of Voisey’s Bay, literally, each time the ships Umiak I or II leave Voisey’s Bay with their cargo. Why not contribute to the communities, who would greatly benefit from it, and who knows, maybe even create the next Olympian, an Inuk Olympian, by simply contributing to the health of Inuit with accessible gym equipment? As I understand it now, only the school and RCMP have proper gym equipment One can never know what these types of contributions could do for a person, for Nunatsiavut communities, near Voisey’s Bay mine.

We know that diabetes is on the increase with Inuit populations, and it’s a proven fact that the food that Inuit do harvest is much more healthier than what can be purchased from the local grocery store in Nunatsiavut. Resource development in the high arctic and subarctic could begin to make huge strides towards supporting traditional food harvesting and consumption. Food contractors who provide foods already make sure that that the “outsiders” at mine sites receive what they are accustomed to in terms of eating. Why not do that for the Inuit? There’s plenty to harvest in these parts.

There are plenty of organizations, associations, and governments that could work together to take small steps in the right direction. It’s been over 10 years since the Voisey’s Bay Mine began. Maybe I am being naive when I say that I believe enough information has now been collected to improve our access to healthy foods.

We do live in isolated communities, and accordingly the struggles we can face are quite challenging and unique to the region. Why not collaborate and help one another strive towards equal opportunity in all aspects of resource development, so that everyone involved or affected can receive maximum benefits and be able to equally prepare for opportunities? Let’s start thinking “outside the box,” and start taking into account what’s already “inside the box.” The opportunities are tremendous. ◉

Johanna Tuglavina is Project Coordinator with the AnânauKatiget Tumingit Regional Inuit Women’s Association.

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