Most North American cities and towns are connected by road, rail and air. Food comes into these communities easily. We have produce from all over the world and lots of it. I, like everyone else these days, think nothing of being able to visit any given city or town and be able to find food anywhere. There are restaurants, cafes and cafeterias, if we plan on sitting down and eating away from home. If we plan on dining at home there is a great selection of grocers, food markets and convenience stores. There is never a big hassle or chore when it comes to figuring out where to get food.
The selection and choice for eating has always been special to me. Back home there are not a lot of restaurants. Every once in a while someone will try to start a restaurant business to fill the void. However, the small population of the community and the cost of carrying on a business in the north usually mean that these ventures don’t last long. In fact, our family decided at one point to develop an eatery. We worked two years at it, but the high cost of food, electricity and maintaining a staff killed the idea. It seemed as if the idea of starting a restaurant in Attawapiskat was like passing the Olympic flame from one person to another. Once we ended our business, another family would try the restaurant dream and set up a business. Most often they would last a year or two and then disappear. Happily, my sister Janie has been having good success at running her coffee shop and the future looks good.
We had enough food at home when I was growing up but it always felt like we were missing out. Mom prepared large meals and everyone had their share in our family of nine children. However, it was a scramble for seconds. Mom and dad did not have the luxury of buying extras for any one of us. Candies of any sort, chips, cookies, pop or anything with sugar or salt never lasted long in our house. We would gobble them up as soon as we saw them. I remember one day, a family member arrived from Timmins with a party package of donuts from Tim Hortons. This was the first time I had heard of the coffee shop chain and I instantly became addicted to their donuts. Later on I became a slave to their coffee.
When I first came to live in the south to start high school I was amazed at the selection of restaurants. I was also surprised at how easy it was to buy food at the many grocery stores. I looked at Timmins as a kind of giant buffet. To go to a restaurant, you drove around town to review the choices of where to eat and once the decision was made it was fill-your-face time. If you were in a hurry, you didn’t even have to leave your car to order food through a fast food restaurant window. Wow, food on the run.
However, I was surprised and disappointed at the amount of waste that came with this convenience. I felt guilty as I entered the lifestyle of greedy gut. I sometimes ordered so much that I could not finish half of it.
Back home, our Elders, grandparents and parents taught us to appreciate and respect any kind of food we received. It is part of our culture and this belief comes from the fact that we have had to face many hardships in the past when our people depended on the skills, knowledge, ability and luck of the person who collected the food. Mother Nature was our restaurant and grocery store but it took a lot of energy and knowledge to be able to shop on the land. There are many stories of starvation and hunger from long ago and some accounts from the not-so-distant past. We were taught never to waste anything. We never complained about the quality of our meal or whether we got enough. As a matter of fact, it was considered bad luck or a bad omen to waste food.
We are out of control when it comes to eating. I think most of us have lost a lot of respect for the food that comes to our table. Perhaps if we had to hunt it for days, skin it and cut it up we would feel differently. Maybe if we had to grow it and take care of it for months before harvest we would have a different view on the value of food.
In North America, we live at the top of the food chain. We have as much as we want while those on First Nation remote communities sometimes go hungry. A huge percentage of the world’s population is actually close to starving and thousands of people actually die every day of hunger. That sounds impossible but it’s true. We have to start thinking about sharing more of our food with others and making it possible for them to enjoy even a fraction of the good life we have. If we don’t, we will pay for this greed somewhere down the line.