DTES Kitchen Tables: Buying food for the DTESPosted by: Erin Brown John on November 19, 2010 / 4:22 PM
Wednesday’s post about the DTES Kitchen Tables Series dialogues covered the poverty mentality and food donations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the majority of food distributed in the DTES is purchased by non-profits from businesses, and some of the discussion focused on the issues they face in sourcing good food for their clients.
Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre shared a bit about how she goes about purchasing food for the meal programs in her organization.
When she first took on planning meals for the Centre, food orders were made through a large distributor, and due to the low volume of their orders and the supplier’s minimum purchasing rules, the supplier would only deliver once per month. She was concerned that she was unable to know where the food had come from and how it was grown and wanted to support local and organic growing if it was possible.
She began to look for alternative sources and ultimately settled on another large distributor. In the end, price won out as her main consideration.
Searching for alternatives
There are several organizations that are working in the DTES to provide better access to food. One that was mentioned was Quest Food Exchange, an organization that works with restaurants and grocery stores to divert food that would normally be considered waste toward people who are in need. Some of the food is donated to local charities while much of it is offered for sale to low-income people and non-profits at below cost.
Inglis mentioned that while she was interested in purchasing food from Quest, uncertainty about what goods would be available was a disadvantage. Their stock and prices fluctuate, making it difficult to budget and plan meals, and food may be at the end of it’s shelf life, making storage an issue.
For her organization right now, going with a large commercial distributor is easier and makes more sense.
Large distributors are not necessarily bad. Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUDcontributed some thoughts about distributors and sourcing ethical food. SPUD lists the location that the food it sells comes from so that consumers can make informed choices. Other distributors don’t do this. This is because many other larger distributors are so big and have so many sources that they may not know where their food came from and it is not yet part of their corporate culture to make note of it.
However, this is not to say that it is not possible. SPUD’s decision to list food where food came from was a direct result of consumer pressure. Large distributors have greater capacity and are more efficient at sourcing and purchasing. They would source more ethical products if they felt there was consumer demand.
Kitchen Tables Project
Rock’s vision for the Kitchen Tables Project is a resource that enables easier access to food for organizations in the DTES.
These organizations are small and often acting in isolation from each other. There is a need in the DTES for an organization that helps coordinate communication between different organizations about their needs. This organization could help facilitate collective purchasing directly from farms or from suppliers to drive down the price and support local producers at the same time.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will beMaking Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org