The Yukon currently has the third-highest rate of food insecurity in Canada; an ongoing problem placed in sharp relief by the pandemic.
Chris Pinkerton, food security network coordinator with Food Network Yukon, has been looking at ways to fill that need since he took the newly minted position last April.
“COVID-19 has really shined a light on things, especially when it first happened and trucks were slowed down and shelves and toilet paper were all empty,” Pinkerton said. “People started realizing if those trucks stop coming through, the shelves get bare pretty quick.”
With supply chains disrupted, the territory’s vulnerability became increasingly obvious, he explained.
“The Yukon only produces, being generous, about 10 per cent of the foodstuffs it needs to support the population so we are really reliant on external shipping,” said Pinkerton. “The farther you go from points of production, the more food insecure you become.”
Food Network Yukon is a non-profit organization focused on building food networks across the territory. It is part of the Yukon Anti-Poverty Coalition with financial support from the Yukon Energy Corporation. The organization also works with United Way Yukon and the Whitehorse Food Bank.
“We meet every few weeks, approximately once a month, to discuss local needs and food security in Whitehorse,” Pinkerton said. “The primary aspect of it is building food security networks across Yukon communities.”
Food security and food sovereignty are also important aspects of that conversation, he explained.
“All three are different but related,” Pinkerton said. “Food security, that’s when people have access to sufficient, nutritious food to maintain a healthy lifestyle. That includes your physical access to food and your means to afford it.”
Food sovereignty is the right of people, communities and Nations to look at their own land-use policies and decide what is ecologically, economically and socially sustainable for that region, he continued.
Pinkerton said many things can be done to alleviate food insecurity, but it’s going to take big efforts across the territory.
“That’s part of bringing in specific communities and working to develop food hubs,” said Pinkerton. “Helping reduce costs overall and empowering communities to be more sustainable, which will reduce the burden of trying to get food on longer shipping routes at higher costs.”
It’s a substantial hurdle, he said.
“It’s a big thing affecting all Yukoners,” said Pinkerton. “We need to look at doing more for it. As time is marching forward our population is growing, inflation is growing, so we need to be working continuously to be building capacity and our own food security.”
In November 2020, the Food Security In Yukon: A Snapshot report was prepared for the Yukon Energy Food Security Network.
The report was meant to be a “springboard” for conversations and action on food security in the Yukon.
It highlighted the need for a food bank in communities outside Whitehorse; a need that the Whitehorse Food Bank worked to fill with monthly hampers travelling long distances during the early days of the pandemic.
The report heard several solutions to the Yukon’s food security crisis.
It suggested a more formal food network or council serving the entire territory; a rights-based food security hub; food councils in each community; and a territory-wide food bank with local coordination.
“However, capacity is a problem for organizations in Whitehorse and rural communities,” the report explained. “Consultation with rural communities is essential for viable and sustainable solutions.”
While supply chain issues are easier to fix, there are deeper, underlying issues provoking insecurity that are not, the report says.
“Clearly, more public conversations and awareness, as well as collective processes are needed to create food security and sovereignty approaches and strategies that work,” the report says.
“The bottom line is that food is a basic human right and no one should be hungry in the Yukon.”
Contact John Tonin at email@example.com