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DUHAIME, Gérard and Nick BERNARD (eds), 2008 Arctic Food Security, Edmonton, Canadian Circumpolar Institute Press, 344 pages.

  • Joanna Kafarowski

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Written as a result of a five-year study from 1998 to 2003, Arctic Food Security presents cutting-edge research by active scholars and community leaders in this field. Food security is contingent upon a regular and consistent supply of reasonably priced foods that meet standard nutritional requirements. According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations), “food security is ensuring that all people at all times have both physical and economic access to the food they need” (in Duhaime and Godmaire 2002: 16).

Arctic food security involves access by local residents to store-bought and traditional foods. Traditional foods still represent the mainstay of the Indigenous diet in many Arctic communities and provide more substantial nutrients such as protein, iron, and zinc than do imported foods. They also feature significantly in the cultural and spiritual life of the community and are integral to Inuit identity. Access to these foods requires a steady income in order to purchase consumer goods as well as gas and equipment to participate in traditional activities, such as hunting and fishing. Also critical is availability: a consistent, year-round supply of high-quality goods in the stores and a ready supply of healthy wildlife to be harvested. The availability of store-bought goods may be constrained by food delivery while the supply of traditional foods may be limited by environmental change, presence of contaminants, or other factors. According to Boult (2004), 83.3% of all Inuit households are classified as “food insecure.” Food security is threatened when individuals and/or communities are prevented from, or are unable to access the food supply. In many parts of the world, particularly for those Indigenous communities who rely upon a traditional diet, food security is compromised.

An extensive literature documents food security issues in Inuit communities. Scholarly papers have been published in journals on nutrition, environmental health, anthropology, and Arctic studies. The Canadian federal government, and, in particular, Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, conduct ongoing research in Inuit communities in Canada with a focus on food consumption patterns. In their work, researchers focus on different aspects of food security but emphasis is on identifying changes in Inuit food systems and linking them to varying health outcomes (Pars et al. 2001).

Both this volume and earlier work by Duhaime (in which preliminary findings of this research were presented) were initiated in response to the lack of a cohesive knowledge base on food security and to other programs and publications, including SLiCA (Survey of Living Conditions in the Arctic) and The Arctic Human Development Report (2006). Editors Duhaime and Bernard point out that, despite growing awareness that food security had been identified as a red-flag issue throughout the circumpolar north, a system of knowledge-sharing among researchers in different parts of the region did not yet exist. Arctic Food Security is a testament to the efforts of scholars and community leaders who overcame cultural barriers and geographical constraints in order to pursue research in this area. As outlined in the introduction, this book is based on the belief that food security results from interactions among the physical environment, social system characteristics (health, demography, economy, technology, etc.), food procurement mechanisms, and immediate factors that affect consumption patterns (accessibility and availability).

Food security research has three main axes: socioeconomic aspects, health and nutritional factors, and legal aspects. Introduced by editors Duhaime and Bernard and with forewords by Maggie Emudluk and Charles Riemenschneider, the book is divided into five major geographical sections—Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Euro-Arctic Barents, and Russia. Each section is sub-divided into several chapters, each of them written by the lead investigator(s) for that country’s project. Most of the chapters focus on Canada (5), yet an impressive number concern Greenland (3) and Russia (2) despite the limited funding, language challenges, and lack of infrastructure for international researchers. It is the synergy created by researchers from diverse cultures and nations working together that gives depth to these chapters. Contributing authors blend Western and traditional knowledge systems that are relevant to the needs of local peoples. For example, in Chapter Nine, “Community Viability and Socio-Economic Change in the Barents Euro-Arctic Region: Reindeer Herding as a Condition for Well-Being and Food Security in Northernmost Finland,” authors Müller-Wille et al. discuss how Sámi reindeer herders in northern Finland are impacted by the principles and practices of local land use and natural resource management. Reindeer herding is the region’s most important source of food items and is directly affected by environmental management policies instituted by both local (usually prioritising traditional knowledge) and national (usually prioritising Western-based knowledge) governments.

This volume is comprehensive and well organised with representation from all Arctic regions although further research in Northern Russia would be beneficial. Supplemented by tables, figures, extensive bibliographies, and poster presentations presented as plates, Arctic Food Security is of primary value as an academic text or as evidence for government officials that research into Arctic food security requires more funding.