Muskox on the menu as Nunavut encourages return to traditional foods
The government is subsidizing hunters to return to the land
by Jonathon Gatehouse on Wednesday, August 15, 2012 10:20am
In Canada’s Far North, where two litres of milk can cost $14, a bag of flour $33, and 10 pieces of fried chicken $61.99, the government of Nunavut thinks a better future might lie in the past. So it has launched a program encouraging residents to follow the example of their ancestors and live off the land, harvesting more traditional “country food” like seal, muskox and even ground squirrel. “It’s partly for reasons of cost, and it’s partly for reasons of nutrition,” says Ed McKenna, director of the territory’s Anti-Poverty Secretariat. “But it’s also related to culture. For many people it’s their preferred food.”
And more to the point, it’s a straightforward solution to one of Nunavut’s most persistent social ills: hunger. A 2010 McGill University study published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal estimated that nearly 70 per cent of preschoolers in the territory live in “food insecure” households, where there is not enough—or sometimes anything at all—to eat. Another survey, undertaken by the federal government, found that half of 11- to 15-year-olds in Nunavut reported sometimes going hungry. “The numbers are pretty stark,” says McKenna. “It’s a major issue.”
The Country Food Distribution Program is providing close to $4 million in funding over three years to help isolated municipalities feed themselves. Grants are available to help establish or upgrade community freezers, or set up local fresh-kill markets. But so far, the most popular aspect of the plan has been the direct subsidies—up to $10,000—for large-scale hunts. Last year, 14 of the territory’s 25 settlements took advantage of the cash, which is earmarked for basic supplies. “Harvesting has become more dependent on Ski-Doos, so you’re talking about the gas, as well as the cost of firearms and bullets, and then food and other equipment,” says McKenna. “It’s the kind of expense that’s beyond the reach of many, many people now.”
McKenna says the government is mindful of the need to avoid creating new problems as they search for solutions to existing challenges. “We don’t want to be encouraging people to do something that’s not going to be in their benefit in the long run.” More studies will be undertaken, and there are no plans to commercialize the hunts and start exporting fish and game outside the territory. “The focus is poverty reduction,” he says. “So it’s not a large program, but it can have a pretty good impact.”..."