Simon Fraser University's Tammara Soma is a food systems-planning researcher. She tackles food issues from farm to table to dump and breaks down traditional silos to create communities through food. Her work also addresses problems, such as food waste and waste management in general, food education, food access, and farmland preservation.
Q: How can we maintain healthy food consumption during this time?
A: Urban populations generally have more access to a diversity of food options (restaurants, cafes, take-outs, etc.) and it’s easy to take all of this for granted. With the need for social distancing and many food outlets limiting services and hours, it is best to make sure you have enough food at home and to choose versatile, easy-to-cook options. In general, it is best to avoid regularly consuming ultra-processed food. A lot of fruits, vegetables and protein (both meat and plant-based) can be purchased frozen, and for the most part, are as good as fresh, as most of it is flash-frozen. They have the added benefit of potentially reducing food waste.
Q: Can you suggest food options for emergency preparedness?
A: Having a household food plan is a key part of planning for an emergency. You can maintain a stock of dry pulses, such as beans, lentils and chickpeas, which are tasty, affordable and nutritious. Canned goods such as salmon and tuna are versatile; if possible avoid those with high sodium content. Nut butters (peanut or almond) are also great as easy snacks. Plant-based milk packaged in UHT/tetra packs also have a long shelf life. B.C. has great options for locally produced and long-lasting fruits and produce; apples last a long time in or out of the fridge.
Q: How can we avoid food panic and vulnerabilities? And how do we boost food system resiliency in times of disruption?
A: People’s worries about continued access to food, which is a food security issue, have also surged. It is critical that we invest/protect local food infrastructure – both built infrastructure (food hubs, farms, processors, etc.) and natural infrastructure (land, watersheds, forests) – to ensure stable supply and maintain public confidence. Also, we need to invest in people (farmers, farm labourers, grocery workers) who grow/cook/serve food for us. Educating people about the importance of local farms and the massive effort that goes into food production is important, as global disruptions such as the current pandemic may in some cases disrupt international supply chains.
Q: What is your view of the public’s tendency for panic shopping and its impact?
A: The general population’s rush to hoard or panic shop could be fueled by a heightened sense of vulnerability. However, whenever we see an increase in people facing layoffs or unemployment, it is critical that others don’t burden the food system by placing communities in need at greater risk. Not everyone has the financial resources or space to stock up on food. Vulnerabilities around income may push more people into poverty, precarious housing, and food insecurity. This is when emergency food services like food banks or charities will be inundated. While preparing for an emergency is important, hoarding food will impact many food charities, which rely not just on people’s donations, but also on supermarket donations of surplus foods to stock their warehouse shelves.
Q: What do you make of the craze for buying toilet paper?
A: Many global cultures around the world are not heavily reliant on toilet paper and depend on other cheaper and more sustainable alternatives. Most toilet paper is produced using virgin paper, contributing to deforestation and the degradation of boreal forests, as well as GHG emissions. Chemicals are used to bleach toilet paper, and a significant amount of water (an estimated 37 gallons to produce just one toilet roll.) Canadians could use the current health crisis as an opportunity to transition towards more sustainable and affordable options, such as bidets (including the handheld ones).