The organizer of a Mount Lorne community festival celebrating local foods says she was forced to cancel this year’s event due to issues raised by the Yukon’s environmental health services branch.
The Ingestible Festival, first held in 2013, is an annual event hosted at the Lorne Mountain Community Centre where community members are encouraged to eat and explore artisanal food made with locally sourced ingredients.
Participants bring homemade food and drink that are entered into one of five categories — ferments, breads, cheeses, flights of fancy and wild-crafted — and set up in a “gallery,” which is on display for an hour before people start sampling the offerings. Everyone then votes on their favourite entry in each category.
This year’s festival was set to take place Aug. 26 — that is, until about two weeks ago, when organizer Shiela Alexandrovich said she was contacted by environmental health services.
Alexandrovich said she was told by an inspector that, in order to hold the festival, all the food either had to be prepared in a certified kitchen or everyone bringing food had to have a temporary food permit as some of the foods expected to be served — in particular, cheese, meat, and egg products — are considered “high-risk.”
Alexandrovich said neither of those requirements line up with the nature or structure of the festival. Even as the organizer, she said she doesn’t know exactly how many people will be bringing food, or what kind of food, until the day of the event, and some of the categories of food can’t be practically made in a certified kitchen.
“It absolutely doesn’t work for things like cheeses, where you’re washing them three times a week or ferments, where you’re feeding them and burping them and taking care of them on a regular basis,” Alexandrovich said. “It doesn’t work.”
“… There are things that are allowed without (a permit) — brownies, applesauce. I mean, these are not local foods and they’re not what people are bringing. The kind of food we’re getting is very artisanal food and very kind of top-of-the-line on the creative end of things.”
Alexandrovich said there was a “back-and-forth” between herself and environmental health services staff in an effort to find a solution, including a call with the services’ director, but “in the end, the last I heard was, ‘Yes, you absolutely do need to have permits.’”
That last exchange occurred Aug. 21, Alexandrovich said, and, with five days to go until the festival, she decided to cancel it because there wasn’t enough time to get information out to everyone and she didn’t want to risk the repercussions of holding it anyway.
“It doesn’t make sense to shut this down. It’s kind of the heart of community in Yukon, is sharing food,” she said. “We bring the best we have, and you do trust each other not to poison each other and we don’t… I think there needs to be a way of communities to eat and share food together without all of the rigamarole around it, because it stops it in its tracks.”
The festival has never had issues with permits or how the food is prepared in the past, Alexandrovich added, and she doesn’t understand what’s different this year compared to the past four years.
In a phone interview Aug. 23, Department of Health and Social Services spokesperson Pat Living confirmed that staff had reached out to the Ingestible Festival “outlining permit requirements.”
“From what I understand, we heard about the event through public advertisement and then just reached out to them saying, ‘Hey, can you let us know what’s going on? And you know, if you’re doing this, you should have permits,’” she said.
Living said she didn’t know about “any past history” about the festival, but confirmed that environmental health services has not received any applications related to it for this year or for the “past several years.”
The department’s permit requirements and food safety standards have been in place for “quite awhile,” she added. In a later email, Living confirmed that regulations require any public event, advertised or not, to have a permit if any food that’s not considered “low-risk” is to be served.
While this year’s Ingestible Festival won’t be going ahead, Alexandrovich said she’s not only determined to make it happen next year, but to also challenge the rules that led to this year’s event being cancelled.
“I don’t know what we’re going to do but I’m not willing to stop and do nothing because it doesn’t seem reasonable,” she said, adding that she’s planning on having a face-to-face meeting with environmental health officials in the near future.
“It’s too important of an event in this day and age … We need to really expand our use of local (food), and it doesn’t mean eating cabbage soup,” Alexandrovich said. “There’s nothing wrong with cabbage soup, but there’s so many more things that we can do with (local) food and that’s what the Ingestible is about.”
Contact Jackie Hong at firstname.lastname@example.org