Montreal Food Paradox


Many Montrealers are aware of the environmental damage caused by the modern industrial food system. Many are also aware of Montreal's status as home to Canada's highest rates of poverty and hunger[1].

What is not often considered is that an individual's food habits, encouraged by the city's food landscape, directly influence those two factors, and neither is it well known that there are many alternatives available in Montreal which provide access to healthy, low-cost food.

The problem of hunger on the international scale was originally understood as food shortage. However, upon closer examination, it has become clear that people are not going hungry because there is not enough food produced, but rather because it is not reaching them. This disparity is also reflected in our own nation; though 15% of our population is on the verge of going hungry (a study by The Daily deemed 3.7 million people in this country "food insecure")[2], the Environmental Protection Agency's estimations state that it would be possible to sustain Canada's population entirely on the food thrown in the garbage in the US[3].


Linked with the social cost of food waste is the environmental cost, as every calorie of food not eaten is tied to the energy and water consumption that went into producing it[4], which can be particularly high with the current industrial agriculture practices and distances we are accustomed to our food travelling before reaching the table. Because the Canadian food landscape is filled overwhelmingly with low quality and low-cost foods (chemically grown produce on superstore shelves, factory-produced meat at fast-food restaurants etc.), this is where many people turn for lack of money to pay for or time to find alternatives[5]. 

The fact is, however, that in Montreal there are many organizations concerned with providing alternatives[6]: Food not Bombs is an anti-war and anti-poverty group who regularly serve food and promote community cohesion at various outdoor locations in St Henri and the Plateau; the Multi-Caf is a kitchen in Cote-des-Neiges which serves hot breakfast and lunch for $1 to anyone who comes by during the week; the Peoples Potato and the Midnight Kitchen alike are student run vegan lunch spots on Concordia and McGill campuses respectively where anyone (though the clientele is predictably mostly students) can get a delicious free/by donation vegan lunch; La Garde-Manger Familiale is a food bank based in a church basement near Metro Rosemont, where $2.50 pays for a backpack full of fresh fruit and vegetables as well as other grocery-store fare (pizza crusts, frozen French fries, canned goods etc.). Many of these places make use of donated food- often, food that is of good enough quality to eat but not good enough quality to sell, and would otherwise be headed for the landfill.

As industrialized agriculture continues to gain dominance and Montreal's food landscape's fast-food cohort grows, the problems of hunger amongst lower-income citizens and environmental damage caused by the production methods will only increase. The main factors keeping Montrealers from making use of the alternative food options available to them are stigma associated with making use of food banks (among the upper class at least) and lack of familiarity with the services that exist.  

[1]"Urban Poverty in Canada: A Statistical Profile Canadian." Council on Social Development. April 17, 2000. October 25 2010.

[2] "Food Insecurity in Canadian Households." Statistics Canada. The Daily, August 15, 2001. October 25, 2010.

[3], [4] "Food Waste has Environmental Impact: Scientists." CBC News. November 25, 2009. October 25th, 2010.

[5] Jeffery Sobal and Brian Wansink. "Kitchenscapes, Tablescapes, Platescapes and Foodscapes." Environment and Behaviour 39.1 (2007): 124-142.

To learn more, visit the Montreal Food Paradox:
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