WHO IS CHANGING THE CONVERSATION AROUND HOW WE EAT (POST #6)?

As we continue to explore the foodie scene and who is involved in bringing good food to the vulnerable in our community, let us introduce you to…

Jenn Cline

Left: Jenn Cline, on the farm Right: a fellow farmer!

Jenn Cline is a former professional chef who also has a BA in International Development Studies (with a focus on food systems). She has always had a love for food, for people, and how the two intersect so beautifully. Jenn is now a farmer in some of the best farming land in bountiful and beautiful BC!

Planted: So, Jenn, what first got you interested in food and farming?

Jenn C: I think I’ve always had a yearning to grow food, yet never made the space or time for it growing up in an urban context. I spent many years in the food service industry making beautiful and delicious meals for people but became disillusioned with the way that [restaurants] and that part of the food system happens, before getting injured on the job, and needing a way to move forward. So I happened into farming, and it has been a marvelous world wind of an adventure thus far. Also, I thrive on feeding people, and always have. By farming I can feed people [with] healthy, delicious food, and be part of a community that is working to be responsible stewards of the land for future generations of creatures: human and non-human.

Planted: During your personal journey, has anything changed – in how you see food, food security and other issues around food justice and social equality?

Jenn C: I think food is currently understood primarily as a commodity – an entity that is separate from us, yet we depend so heavily on it. It is literally what keeps us alive! Yet there is this strange disconnect in our understanding of the production of food, based on a lack of experience and knowledge. Food waste is one outcome of this system of disconnect. I think as a society we lack the experience of the mystery of food – That every fruit and plant and grain that we eat is the miracle of a seed! A single seed! The fact that seeds are being manipulated [genetically] and patented is a blatant statement of how messed up our relationship to our food really is. Patents make sure that not everyone has access to food, which makes a lot of people food insecure – a sure sign of social inequality.

Jenn Cline at Farm Mountains

Farm School field trip to Pemberton

Planted: So what signs of hope encourage you to continue working to change the conversation about social responsibility and food?

Jenn C: One sign of hope to me is the place that I work – It is a farm that grows food for low-income folk and families in the lower mainland. People from different socio-economic backgrounds and experiences gather to serve one another by tending the land, tending the seeds, and joining in the mystery that is growing food. Food is grown in abundance, to be shared in abundance.

A sign of hope is a child digging in the dirt, knowing what vegetables are, that food comes from here [the dirt], and not just far away places or supermarkets.

A sign of hope is the farming community I am being welcomed into and seen as a companion in, not a competitor.

A sign of hope is a seed breaking through the soil and bringing life to its environment.

There are signs of despair all around us. So we must look for the signs of hope, of change, of a better future, and work wholeheartedly to be a bearer of that change and hope in the world.

– Jenn Cline, June 2016

Food Intolerances & Food Services: Providing Choice at Community Meals

Written by Holly Heximer & Marilee Pumple, UBC Dietetics Students

According to the Disability Alliance of BC, 50% of Canadian Food Bank users report having a disability, which can include digestion challenges such as celiac diseaseBread & Cheese.jpg or sensitivity to wheat. Across Vancouver, many people depend on food banks and community food services, yet are faced with the harsh reality that they cannot digest all of the foods available in these programs.

People on a limited income affected by chronic conditions or food intolerances must sometimes choose between going hungry or eating foods that make them feel ill.  Without access to acceptable foods, they risk becoming increasingly malnourished. How can food providers create a safe and inclusive environment for people requiring a special diet?

Celiac Disease Requires a Special Diet

Celiac Disease is an autoimmune disorder affecting the small intestine.  When an individual with this disorder consumes gluten, their nutrient absorption capabilities decline and they experience uncomfortable symptoms like bloating, pain, rashes and irritability. Gluten is a protein found in wheat, barley and rye, and is an ingredient in many processed foods, providing texture, chewiness and elasticity. The Canadian Celiac Association estimates that 1 in 133 Canadians are affected by celiac disease. The only treatment for people living with celiac disease is to follow a strict gluten-free diet. Similarly, some people who are not true celiac feel better when not eating wheat, and thus try to avoid it.

Reliance on Food Services

Individuals with dietary restrictions like wheat sensitivity often face a lack of choice when accessing charitable food programs as items commonly served often contain wheat or gluten. Gluten-free specialty foods are typically more expensive and are donated less often. Naturally gluten-free foods such as potatoes, beans, rice, corn, meats, fruits and vegetables can provide plenty of nutrients for a person avoiding gluten. However, these items are not always available.

10th Church Community Meal

The opportunity to speak with individuals facing ongoing health challenges arose while visiting a community meal at 10th Church. One guest shared her experience of living with a wheat allergy.  She suggested volunteers at food programs be receptive to guests inquiring about ingredients or allowing them to disclose their diet restrictions at the start of the meal. There may be a misconception that when a guest inquires about ingredients or preparation methods that they are being picky or rude. However, providers should be empathetic to clients who must ask questions necessary to follow through with diet restrictions.

For people coping with a health condition, it may be challenging to disclose personal information regarding dietary restrictions. A person with a special diet may fear that if there is no alternative, they may not be able to eat at all. Individuals often choose to remain silent about their restrictions and risk their health just to ensure they get something to eat. A separate menu for guests with special diets may not be practical, as it may single out individuals for receiving special treatment. Instead of isolating guests during their dining experience, having similar menu items without common allergens, such as wheat-containing gravies or sauces, may allow for these guests to enjoy their meal while not compromising their health.

As more people become diagnosed with allergies and chronic conditions, food providers may have to rethink their methods for providing food. Although it may not be feasible to accommodate everyone, focusing on client concerns will ensure a more inclusive and safe dining experience.

Recommendations to Food Providers 

  • Provide space for guests to ‘check in’ with staff before the meal is served where they may privately share any allergies or food restrictions.
  • Provide a display board featuring menu items with a common allergens disclaimer (eg. nuts, shellfish, wheat, soy, etc.) so that guests may avoid a certain food without the need for full disclosure.
  • For donations, immediately separate donated gluten-free foods from other items. When sorting foods, scan labels and mark foods that may contain hidden sources of gluten such as sauces or soups. Use separate food hampers or storage for those requiring a special diet. Look for these words on ingredient labels: malt, spelt, wheat, gluten, semolina, kamut or barley.
  • Avoid contamination of gluten-free foods by preparing meals on a clean work surface. Prepare gluten-free foods before other foods, to avoid trace contamination. Ensure each dish has its own utensils when serving food.
  • Label dishes at buffet or family-style community events. List ingredients so that celiac individuals can identify which dishes are safe to eat.
  • Plan meals with a variety of foods.  If the main course has pasta and cheese, for example, choose a dessert without wheat or dairy.
  • Ensure staff and volunteers are trained with safe food handling practices, demonstrate empathy and help clients with food intolerances in a respectful manner.

For more information on celiac disease and a gluten free diet, visit the Canadian Celiac Association.

Holly Heximer is entering her 4th year in the UBC Dietetics program. After graduating she plans to work rurally as a clinical or community dietitian.

Marilee Pumple is a 4th year student at UBC, also studying to become a Registered Dietitian. She is passionate about health, wellness and overall care for others.  She has a particular interest in food literacy and gerontology.