Ethical Eats

Brought to you by Oxfam @ Queen's

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Understanding Land Grabs!

         This past week, Oxfam @ Queen’s was fortunate enough to have Dr. Allison Goebel join us at our meeting to speak about gender, agriculture, and climate change in Southern Africa. Dr. Goebel is an Associate Professor in the School of Environmental Studies here at Queen’s. Her talk focused on the gendered nature of agricultural production and food security in Zimbabwe and South Africa. 

          One aspect of Dr. Goebel’s talk that was especially relevant to Oxfam’s current campaigns is the issue of land grabs. Just a few weeks ago, Oxfam at Queen’s hosted an event at the corner of University & Union to raise awareness about land grabs. The event encouraged passers-by to sign Oxfam’s petition challenging some of the world’s largest food brands to improve their business practices to stop land grabs.

          Since we were just recently campaigning to raise awareness about land grabs and hopefully help put an end to them, it was wonderful to hear more details from Dr. Goebel about this topic!

          Dr. Goebel explained some more about the circumstances surrounding land grabs. Land grabs are a growing concern in Africa, because more than half of the world’s land grabs occur on that continent. So far, millions of hectares of land have been grabbed! Land grabbing really escalated in 2008, as the global recession spread. In and after 2008, as food prices around the world rose, some countries that depended on importing food could no longer afford to do so because prices had risen too high. Thus, some governments and corporations either purchased or grabbed land in Africa, and around the world, in order to produce the food they needed at lower prices and then export it abroad.

          Why would governments agree to sell land that their own citizens are using? Dr. Goebel discussed how governments sometimes choose to sell the land because they view earning money from the sale as more important than owning the land, especially if it does not appear that the land is being used to its full potential. The key word here is “appear” because land that is assumed to be “unused” is often actually crucial. For instance, people might pick wild berries or vegetables from forested areas, or they may use large open fields to herd their livestock. And although the land may not be used year round, residents often depend on it for specific purposes.

          I hope reading this has helped you to understand a little bit more about why land grabs occur and how serious a concern they are. We are so grateful for Dr. Goebel for joining us to speak about land grabs as well as other areas of her research; she gave an extremely interesting and educational presentation!

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Main Street Market ~ a Kingston gem!

As a student in Kingston, it can sometimes be hard to step out of the ‘bubble’ and discover all that our city has to offer. Once we have ventured past the last crushed red solo cup on Brock and fluttering tricolour flag, we enter a Kingston uncharted and unknown. There is a whole host of treasures that blow my Metro-trained mind, and Main Street Market is definitely one of those gems.

  Main Street Market is an urban food distributor that supports local agriculture, and seeks to improve the connection between eaters, farmers, the local economy and the environment.They are an urban CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organisation, supplying weekly produce baskets containing delicious herbs, vegetables, and fruit to Kingstonians, even offering ‘Green Delivery’ by bike. Main Street Market also consciously sources their goods from local and organic farms and businesses – something that we at Oxfam support with all our hearts. (See our LOFT (Local Organic Fair Trade) post for more info)

And if that wasn’t enough, they support local food programs, community gardening, and provide hands-on agricultural and nutrition education and training – Does Scything 101 or Shiitake Mushroom Cultivating sound interesting to you? 

They can be found at the Memorial Centre Farmer’s Market (open Sundays 9-2 late May – late October (303 York Street)

St Mary’s of the Lake pop-up market Wednesdays 9-3 (340 Union St)

John’s Deli (507 Princess Street)

Ohhh, and I may have just stumbled across the ‘House Concerts’ section of their website – Who doesn’t want to eat vegan pear pie, drink fair-trade coffee and listen to beautiful folk singers? It’s actually not a question.  

Thanks, Kingston – your unused guard towers must actually be used to harbour amazing organizations such as Main Street Market. I can’t wait to see what other well-kept secrets there are to discover. Image

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Event Recap: Behind the Brands Petition at Queen’s

Last week Oxfam @ Queen’s hosted an advocacy event at the corner of U&U to raise awareness about Oxfam’s Behind the Brands campaign, collect signatures for a petition, and most importantly: give out chocolate! (It wouldn’t be a Food Security campaign event without some delicious eats!)

Petitioning at U&U!

Petitioning at U&U!

For those that don’t know, Behind the Brands is a global Oxfam campaign that challenges the ten biggest global food brands to improve their business practices relating to seven issues.

The brands: Nestle, Unilever, Coca-Cola, Danone, Mars, PepsiCo, Mondalēz, General Mills, Kelloggs, and Associated British Foods.

The issues: land, women, farmers, workers, climate, transparency, and water.

The latest Behind the Brands campaign focuses on land grabs and sugar. Specifically, Oxfam is asking Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, and ABF to make sure that the sugar they buy doesn’t lead to land grabs. In order to apply positive pressure to the three biggest sugar-buyers in the world, Oxfam has been collecting signatures over the past month-and-a-half, with a goal of 275 000 signatures. With 251 850 signatures so far, the petition is generating waves in the industry. Coca-Cola has already committed to a zero-tolerance policy for land grabs!

We had a goal of collecting 200 signatures in four hours, and surpassed that goal with 209 signatures! Exceeding our goal was impressive, but we were even happier with the conversations that we had with the students who took the time to sign the petition. You tend to get a lot of blank looks when you talk about an issue like land grabs, but people were genuinely interested in learning more about the topic. We got a lot of great questions about the campaign, land rights, and Oxfam!

Thank you to all the volunteers who braved the wind and cold and came out to hold a poster, give out chocolate, or collect signatures for the petition. Your enthusiasm made the day go by faster!

For more information about Oxfam and Behind the Brands, visit And sign the petition if you haven’t already done so!

– Hannah Shirtliff

Jonathan Foley: The other inconvenient truth

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Have you ever heard of ‘terraculture’? It means farming for the whole planet, which is something we as a global population must do if we are to continue feeding ourselves in the face of climate change. Terraculture is food production that combines the best practices of conventional agriculture with organic agriculture to be both productive and sustainable. Only agriculture that cares for ecosystem health will in the long term be able to care for human health as well.

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Something New (maybe) to Try

I remember thinking the local grocery stores in my hometown looked like an after school special. During certain times of the day, it was staffed almost entirely by people from my high school. Standing behind the thinly sliced stacks of salami was the mousy haired boy with thick eyebrows, whose legs I had accidentally stepped on when trying to navigate the crowded hallways. There, in the baked goods section, was quiet lanky kid arranging baguettes in woven baskets that were set out in an attempt to create a rustic, old fashioned feel to the process of buying bread, though the contrast with the polished tiled floor ruined the illusion. Cheery, red apples glowed wanly under yellow fluorescent light, waxy coatings lending them an unnatural shine. Like many other grocery stores, it has a very industrious atmosphere. Stacks upon stacks of food converged to rows upon rows of cashiers. Staffed with grudging kids who had recently grown too old for an allowance, people came in and out without a thought.

Recently, after being introduced to the ideas of food security, I was strongly encouraged to try and buy LOFT (local, organic or fair-trade) foods whenever possible, and within reason. Foods fulfilling any of these criterions can be pretty expensive at places like Metro and such, especially when you’re on a student budget. This is what led me to start shopping more at local Farmer’s Markets. Maybe it’s because I’m a person who’s always been nostalgic for the older and simpler days, and a silly tendency to romanticize eras in which I have never lived, but I absolutely love places with atmospheres like those.

It’s an entirely different shopping experience. Instead of the neat, utilitarian set up of any local grocery, you usually get a mess of colorful tents and tablecloths flapping cheerfully in the wind. There you can find your usual fruit and vegetables, but also much more. I’ve gotten freshly made zucchini loaf that I had to cautiously take from a baked goods display, mainly because of the cloud of bees hovering above, clearly attracted to the sweet smells. In retrospect, it was a stupid idea, but I was probably very hungry. The best apple cider I ever had? I used to buy bottles of it from a family who ran their own apple picking orchard back at home. They told me they bottled it up to sell commercially, but it didn’t taste quite the same as when it was fresh. And is it just me, but does anyone feel extra fancy when they are walking down the street with a freshly made local baguette, or loaf of bread, tucked under their arm? Just be careful, paper bags are not the sturdiest and there’s a chance your bread will slip out and fall into a puddle, which is very upsetting. Lastly, though not food related, you can sometimes find really interesting pieces of clothing. Sometimes it’s made by the locals themselves, but sometimes it’s been brought back by people who travel around the world. A woolly hat from Nepal for $10? I want. I also have a weak spot for pretty saris and wall hangings from the Middle East. I adore clothes with an interesting story or history (like hearing about how the wool in my scarf is made from sheep who frolic happily in the Himalayas) –  it’s a marketing technique I never stop falling for.  As well, by buying pieces from locals, you are supporting those who make these things for a living in a more direct way. So maybe next time, try ditching the stagnant and nondescript grocery store smell for the fresh air at your local farmer’s market, and spend an afternoon there. You’d be surprised what you can find.


– Jennie T