TVO’s Steve Paikan interviews Leesee Papatsie about the group she co-founded, Feeding My Family.
This grassroots organization started in 2012 by two Nunavut residents, Eric Joamie of Pangnirtung, Nunavut and Leesee Papatsie of Iqaluit, uses a public Facebook group, Feeding My Family, to raise awareness about the high cost of food in Nunavut by providing a forum for northerners to discuss their personal struggles with food in their communities, compare food prices, brainstorm solutions, provide immediate help to those in need through spin-off programs, such as the Food for Nunavut Group, and organize peaceful protests.
The group, which now has 21,000 members, hopes to influence government policy-makers to find better ways to lower the cost of food and encourage retailers to provide more competitive prices while improving food quality, which in many instances is past the expiration date or spoiled.
“What motivates me is that kids are going hungry today, now,” said Leesee Papatsie to the CBC in November 2016.
This Government of Canada subsidy program was launched in 2011, replacing the Food Mail program, to provide fresh healthy foods to isolated northern communities. Working with suppliers in southern Canada and retailers in the north, the program has invested about $60 million per year since it began subsidizing the high costs of transporting perishable foods (fruits, vegetables, milk, eggs, meat and cheese) and country foods produced in the north (Arctic char, musk-ox and caribou) by air to northern communities. According to the program’s website, “the cost of a food basket for a family of four has dropped approximately 5 percent or $94 per month.” However, critics say even with the price drop, food in the north is still too expensive.
“Nutrition North has an impossible task. You lower the cost to this level, but people can’t get to that level. People still go hungry,” said Brian Tattuinee of Iqaluit to the CBC in September 2016. A report released in 2014 by Auditor General of Canada Michael Ferguson said that the program has no way of determining whether its subsidies were actually being passed on to the customers and some of the foods subsidized by the program could not be considered healthy (ice cream, processed cheese spread, etc.). In response to these criticisms, the program has engaged in a series of community consultations from May 30 to December 9, 2016.