The basement of the IDEA Centre a few doors east of the Osborne Village strip on Wardlaw Avenue in Winnipeg drew a steady stream of people on the distribution days of the Agassiz Food Co-op.
It took some skill to manoeuvre boxes packed with organic produce, and then exotic items like adzuki beans or soft packets of miso, around the folk settling their accounts or writing down their orders for the next distribution on the large sheets covering a central table.
An eclectic membership leaning heavily towards the youthful, artistic and socially engaged sides of the demographic continuum rubbed shoulders there. Among them was Al Simmons, who is on the roster of performers at this summer’s Dawson City Music Festival, along with members of the corps of the Royal Winnipeg ballet, stalwarts of CUSO, the Manitoba Council for International Co-operation and other denizens of similar offices on the upper floors of the building.
Thirty-five years ago, the conversations in that basement on the benefits of organic and whole foods had a definite fringe tone to them, as did the anti-apartheid, fair trade and feminist concerns shared there as well. An intentional community called Common Ground held a joint membership in the co-op. One of their number, Pat Mooney, was even then a generation ago expressing his concerns about the negative ramifications of agricultural concentration and corporate control of biotechnology.
The Swedish Parliament would later recognize his early warnings about the introduction of genetically modified crops when they presented him their Right Livelihood Award, seen as a alternative Nobel Prize. He continues this work at the ETC Group in Ottawa addressing the socioeconomic and environmental impact of new technologies on the world’s most vulnerable peoples.
Every generation responds to the challenges presented to it. Today we see networks around us like Growers of Organic Food Yukon pointing out the danger of introducing GMO alfalfa here in the territory, the Potluck Food Co-op developing access to a local, organic and sustainable food supply, Beans North fostering fair trade relationships or the DUGS community garden allowing people to get their hands dirty growing their own food while sending their surplus to the Whitehorse Food Bank.
Over the long view of history, we can see humanity’s struggle towards an ideal state of human affairs pointed to in various ways by the world’s great religious and ethical traditions. These unfold as much in the mundane choices we make in our daily lives as in the heroic sacrifices made by well-remembered men and women like Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi.
Over 2,200 years ago, the great Confucian thinker Xunzi wrote, “When justice is at stake, not to bow one’s head before power and look after one’s own benefit, and not to change one’s convictions even if the whole empire is offered to one, to uphold justice and not bend oneself, though taking death seriously – this is the courageousness of the scholar and gentleman.”
Twenty-three centuries ago, during the harsh Warring States period of Chinese history, Xunzi took on the surely dangerous role of a social critic pushing and prodding his society forward, just as we must now, towards a longed for just, peace-filled social order.
On the evening of Saturday, April 13, people of all faiths and anyone else interested in global hunger issues are invited to come and celebrate another Winnipeg-based initiative, the Canadian Foodgrains Bank, and its three decades of ecumenical collaboration in responding to the hunger challenges of the Global South at 7:30 p.m. in Hellaby Hall of Christ Church Cathedral on 4th and Elliot. The program will include the screening of a short film about the work of the Foodgrains Bank and an address by the Canadian Foodgrains Bank’s Executive Director, Jim Cornelius.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.