Whether it’s about reducing our environmental footprint (looking at recycled content in paper) or advancing social justice (avoiding sweatshop labour), changing institutional procurement policies and practices is an important piece of the puzzle for a healthy and sustainable future.
Increasingly, private and public institutions across North America are turning their attention to food – specifically foods that reflect our values – to ensure that we know our food is healthy and sustainably produced and harvested under conditions that support good jobs and working conditions. Institutions such as universities, child care centres, schools, health care facilities, prisons, and large employers are major purchasers and servers of food and can have a significant impact on our food systems and our food choices.
Public institutions, in particular, play an important role in increasing access to healthy, just and sustainable foods, as they often serve those most vulnerable to food insecurity or serve people at critical times, such as during hospital stays or young children. Institutions can leverage our public dollars to reap social, economic and environmental benefits for a healthier future for all.
However, changing practices and policies is not without challenges. For example, working at the scale of institutions means confronting issues of availability, distribution, seasonality, food preferences, fairness, and cost.
The Ecology Action Centre and FoodARC partnered with the Nova Scotia Departments of Agriculture and Health and Wellness to host an event on institutional procurement of healthy, just and sustainable foods in Nova Scotia on March 2, 2016 at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax.
Chef and activist, Joshna Maharaj, shared her experiences in shifting institutional food practices, procurement and public dollars to focus on healthy, local and sustainable food. Sixty-five individuals interested in supporting change from a range of sectors attended the interactive presentation.
Joshna Maharaj provided inspiration and encouragement, along with very practical advice based on her experiences.
Graphic Recording of Event by Brave Space Building Self-Reliance: Pathways to Healthy, Local Food in Our Institutions (Photo credit: FoodARC)
Participants also heard about efforts within Nova Scotia to create a sustainable food framework for procurement and operations at Dalhousie University, and a pilot project called “Now We Are Cooking” with four child care centres in East Hants to purchase fresh food from local producers and engage children and families in cooking and learning about food.
During the afternoon, those actively engaged in shifting institutional procurement in Nova Scotia were mentored by Joshna and had the opportunity to learn from colleagues across the province. The groups surfaced a number of common challenges including: demand, food safety, burnout, leadership and capacity, market forces, and maintaining a positive narrative.
To learn more about institutional procurement of healthy, just and sustainable foods, check out the following websites and resources.
- Farm to Cafeteria Canada
- Health Care Without Harm – Healthy Food in Health Care (Canada)
- New England’s Farm to Institution Network
- New England Farm to Institution Network Seafood Case Studies
- Los Angeles Food Policy Council – Good Food Purchasing Policy Working Group
- Meal Exchange (Canada)
- Real Food Challenge (US)
Stay tuned to efforts in Nova Scotia by following or using #NSfoodshift and consider taking action in your organization by asking questions and starting a conversation about food!
By: Satya Ramen, Coordinator with the Our Food Project, Ecology Action Centre