Ethical Eats

Brought to you by Oxfam @ Queen's

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What can we eat if we can’t eat wheat?

This week, I decided to write about an aspect of food security that is often not factored into the equation – the complications of celiac disease on food security, in North America in particular.

Celiac disease is a genetic intolerance to gluten – found in wheat and therefore most of what we eat today –  causing inflammation of the digestive tract and interference with the absorption of nutrients. For those with the disease, in varying degrees of sensitivity, a lifelong gluten-free (GF) diet is the only cure*. 

Celiac disease is now 4 times as prevalent as it was 60 years ago*, and highest in Western Europe and the U.S*. Suspicious that the richest region of the world, the region that historically consumed almost all of the world’s wheat, is most afflicted by this disease, isn’t it?!. One hypothesis is that more  human immune systems are rejecting wheat because of what this ancient grain has become:  a genetically modified and hybridized crop seen in all commercial American fields. This technological wheat is heavily subsidized by governments to increase yields and export to an increasingly wheat-hungry world. Check out the great documentary “A Place at The Table” for a ton more information on tackling America’s food security issues.

Nearly half of American children will receive food stamps in their lifetime, which average out to about $4 a day for food*. The struggle to put food on the table is severely worsened when a family member must eat GF foods. One blogger ( calculated that she spends more than 3 times that amount ($13) on essential gluten-free food per day. 

The increasing rate of this disease is not something that is likely to go away. Within the past two years, three of my friends have developed an intolerance to gluten, although they all ate it as kids. The limited availability and high cost of GF foods greatly limits poor families’ access to a nutritious diet. Although the Global South is always a major focus of food security issues, I hope this article has shed some light on systemic hunger issues that exist within North America as well. 



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Food Security: Not Just About Food

Coming from an environmental science and global development studies background, I try and bring to Ethical Eats an integrated, multifaceted interpretation of contemporary issues.  I hope that it is clear to the majority of us that food security is tied into topics of poverty, power differentials, ownership/governance, labour trends, technological intensification, and ultimately, profit.  However, I would like to share an interesting concept associated with food security, which to me, has not been given adequate attention by developmental, agricultural, or private-corporate associations: water security.  I wish to touch on this subject briefly, while I greatly encourage that you (the reader) look into the topic further.  Water security is tied into a web of dynamic issues and relationships, and the solutions are equally complex.

Topics of water security are tied into topics of food on multiple levels.  Local abilities to subsist have been challenged since the industrial revolution and colonial era; not only has this progressive Euro-American process of acculturation led to the corporate concentration of water resources, but (arguably more importantly), it has also led to a broad-scale shift in attitudes toward the environment.  I suppose that I have created a sense of nostalgia for a time and place in history that I haven’t actually experienced.  Nonetheless, I can’t help but appreciate a time when local knowledge, human interactions, and innovations, allowed for basic needs to be met with utmost respect for the health of the environment.  One example that comes to mind is an area in the high-altitude region of the Tibetan plateau, called Ladakh.  The population, being faced with huge ecological pressures (hypoxia, isolation, extreme cold etc.), found creative ways to channel glacial meltwater to support the local population in a highly organized, cooperative manner.  Wheat, barley, vegetables, and fruit were plentiful, but the process was shaken with colonialism, war, and internal interventions.  There had once existed unwritten codes (derived from Buddhist religious norms) to never taint the quality of the water.  However, the community gradually began to face issues of degraded water quality and water-borne disease.  Ladakh’s experiences with the outer world is descriptive of the future world order that we as a global society are bound to face.

To place the case study of Ladakh into the context of current concerns for food security, I urge the Queen’s community to consider the relationship that now exists between humans and the environment.  Alexander Zhender, writing for the Swiss Federal Institute for Environmental Science and Technology, brings light to the extent to which water is used in agriculture, in a 2003 water policy article.  According to the FAO, on average, only 45 percent of irrigation water is used by the crop itself (although efficiency can vary, depending on the plant type and how water is brought to the plant).  Thus, one image to consider with regard to the relationship between water and food is inefficiency, and the subsequent degradation of water resources in food production.

Further, “virtual water” is an important topic in defining the intersection between water issues and food security, and they are weaved together by issues of international trade.  Water is not traded internationally as a consequence of transport issues, and from a philosophy standpoint.  So, what does this mean for water-poor countries?  Well, mostly this implies that there are very limited mechanisms to deal with both water and food needs.  Developing nations typically end up importing food to reduce internal water demands for agriculture, and herein is the meaning of “virtual water”.  Food acts as “virtual water” as a result of a non-uniform distribution of water, and also as a result of changing resource ownership.  The image of water insecurity and food insecurity is thus hugely complex, but one thing for certain is that local self-sufficiency has sufficiently been undermined.

Well, what does this mean for the future?  Water efficiency has been investigated quite thoroughly (consider drip irrigation systems, waste reduction, reallocation/reorganization etc.), along with topics of securing international food agreements.  But, is the technological, management, or policy solution enough?  My view: if we hope not to saturate the resources on which we live and thrive, then the exemptionalist paradigm that humans possess, relative to the environment, must ultimately be changed.


Alexander Zhender: Water Issues: The Need for Action at Different Levels
Ancient Futures: Learning From Ladakh

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Food Tank

Jaclyn Gates, one of the Oxfam Co-Chairs, stumbled across an amazing food security website the other day. I was going to use it as a starting point for a specific issue, but there was so much content available that I couldn’t decide what to write about! So instead, consider this post an introduction to!

Food Tank describes itself as a Food Think Tank “for the seven billion people who have to eat every day.” Focusing on solutions for global hunger and the obesity epidemic, Food Tank highlights people and organizations around the world who are creating a sustainable food system from the ground up. Over the next year, President Danielle Nierenberg will be speaking at agricultural conferences across the United States and Europe.

Currently, the home page features articles on climate change, holding the food industry accountable for healthcare costs, the International Year of Family Farming (2014!), apps to support animal welfare, and an innovative new approach to rice farming that uses less water. See why I couldn’t just pick one issue to highlight here? And check out the “Partners” section for a list of organizations that are doing amazing work to fix our broken global food system (including Oxfam America)!

Next time you need to procrastinate, check out and get up-to-date on the latest food security news! Now I’m off to download that animal welfare app…

– Hannah Shirtliff

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Bananas: An Unappeeling Truth

From baked goods to smoothies, bananas prove to be an extremely diverse and widely consumed fruit. With 100 billion eaten each year around the world, it is a fruit that we should all consider buying organic especially because we do not have a local option in North America. The banana we know and love today is not always what it used to be. Today’s variety, the Cavendish, was only brought into production in the 1960’s after Panama disease wiped out the Gros Michel, or “Big Mike” breed. This fruit differed in size, taste, texture, and genetics, and cannot be easily found today in North American markets. Rooted in Central America, Panama disease affected the vascular system of the Gros Michel plant and managed to shut down plantations around the world. It took substantial financial investments (and plenty of deforestation) for the markets to shift into widespread cultivation of Cavendish bananas, but the transition went rather smoothly. Huzzah! The world was saved from a bananapocalypse! But in the 1990’s, the ever-persistent Panama disease once again reared its ugly head much to the distaste of banana farmers and consumers. Unfortunately, Cavendish bananas are not immune to this strain of the disease.

Banana trees possess a property known as parthenocarpy, which means the plant can produce fruit even in the absence of pollination. Commercial banana farming commonly involves cutting a section from an existing plant and transplanting it to create a clone tree. This widespread practice has created very low genetic diversity among Cavendish populations, increasing the entire variety’s susceptibility to ailments including Panama disease. This weakness is combatted with high levels of pesticide use which has the potential to harm not only the consumer, but most significantly the farmers. Though North American consumers cannot buy bananas locally for obvious reasons, it is definitely an item that we should all consider buying organic, even more so if you eat a lot of this fruit. (And it is probably a good idea to indulge while you still can, as the demise of the Cavendish is predicted to be in the near future!)


Oxfam @ Queen’s: Food Security Goes to the Farmer’s Market

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A video is worth a blog post, right?

O@Q’s Food Security campaign has been working on this video for a few weeks, and we’re really excited to finish release it! We wanted to draw attention to the winter Farmer’s Market – many Queen’s students don’t realize that this happens every Wednesday in the lower JDUC during the winter, instead of outside like the fall and spring.
There’s always a fantastic array of organic baking, local apples, vegetables, cheeses, preserves, and hot lunch. And what better way to support LOFT food, get groceries, and help your local economy, all from the convenience of campus?

We interviewed some friendly vendors, students, and “experts” to find out what they think about the Market.

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Midterms got you down?

I have spent a lot of time in Stauffer this last week. Like, a lot of time. And I’m sure I’m not the only one because every time I go, there are the same old people puttering away around me. It feels almost as though I’ve become friends with some of you by simple observation. Like this one guy who studies for a while then picks up a newspaper. I’m not sure if you’re reading world events or the comics. Either way, we have really good conversations about these things in my head. Like that Mallard Fillmore comic on Wednesday? What a scorcher. You know whats up, newspaper guy.

All that is to prove Stauffer is driving me insane. I’m in a downward spiral and nothing can save me…….. except perhaps some LOFT goodies.

What? Where, when, HOW? Good questions. If, like me, library living is not the life you long for, have no fear because Oxfam is here! On Tuesday and Wednesday the Food Security Squad will be handing out some LOFT yum-yums in Stauffer to help you power through the midterm blues.

I’m confident that you will LOVE the LOFT, so I’m posting the recipes below. If at any point during your midterm season Buzzfeed articles like “The 27 Most ’00s Photos Of Celebrities In Existence” (yup, that’s for real) just aren’t cutting it procrastination-wise, try making one of these recipes! We got all our LOFT ingredients (like organic flour, fair trade cocoa, and local eggs) from Oxfam’s Fair Trade booth and Tara’s.

Good luck on midterms, may the odds be ever in your favour. Also, may these goodies be forever your favourite flavour.

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Wow, what is this exciting event?!

It is a fashion show displaying ethically-sourced clothing purchased from various retailers in the Kingston area! The clothing will be modeled by some beautiful members of our Oxfam chapter as well as the Queen’s community. You can expect to see ethically sourced clothing and accessories from:

▪   Modern Primitive

▪   American Apparel

▪   Tribal Voices Hatley

▪   P’Lovers

▪   Mola Mola

▪   Tricolour Outlet


Specifics about the event:

When? TONIGHT March 1 @ 8:00 – last call

Where? Clark Hall Pub on Queen’s Campus

Who can attend? Anyone 19+!

Cost? Free to get in!


This is the 3rd year that the fashion show has taken place, and it has gained a reputation as an amazing event. Consider grabbing some friends (or come alone if you’d like!) and joining us at Clark Hall this evening! What’s not to love about checking out some ethically sourced fashion, having some snacks or drinks, and listening to some tunes by DJ TOMMY GUN? Nothing at all – it’s definitely an evening that you do not want to miss! 

If you’re still on the fence about whether to attend, take a look at some of the photos below from last year’s fashion show. Doesn’t it look like a good time? We think so!





Here’s a link to the event page on Facebook in case you want to see any more specific information:


Hope to see you all there!