Dr. Shirley Thompson -Natural Resources Institute
204‑474‑7170  |  s_thompson@umanitoba.ca
Food Resources - Course Outline (*.PDF)

Food has a large impact on sustainability (i.e., environment, economy and social aspects). Food systems include production, processing, distribution, consumption, and waste disposal. About one third of households' total environmental impact is related to food and drink consumption. This large impact is from the indirect or direct effects of livestock agriculture and food industry on water, soil and air, the overuse of fish resources, the increase of food transport and packaging waste. Also, industrial food systems have a strong dependence on fossil energy with seven times the energy (typically fossil fuel) being consumed for every unit of food energy produced. There is thus a need to work with natural processes to conserve all resources, minimize waste, and lessen food's impact on the environment, as well as its social and economic aspects.

"Community food Security is a condition in which all community residents obtain a safe, culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate diet through a sustainable food system that maximizes community self reliance and social justice" (Hamm and Bellows, 2003).
About 10% of Canada's population is food insecure at some time during the year, meaning they are not sure where their next meal is coming from. Food insecurity takes other forms that affect the whole population, such as unhealthy food, displacement of people and disruption of culture, loss of farmland and increasing dependence on food imports. This course will explore the many components of this problem, alert you to solutions and progress, and will help you develop knowledge and skills that will increase your understanding and your ability to become a change agent.

This class will ask: Why is the food system unsustainable? If food is plentiful and cheap, why do people lack nourishing food? The following issues will be explored:

Environmental Issues

  1. Dependence of agricultural on fossil fuel in Canada and industrialized world.
  2. Total cropland acres are decreasing.
  3. The rate of groundwater withdrawal exceeds recharge rates in many major agricultural regions.
  4. Nutrient runoff is creating water pollution and hypoxic "dead zones.
  5. Less than 20% of corn, soy, and cotton plants were genetically engineered in 1996; by 2007 between 40%-90% were (varies by type).
  6. Despite a tenfold increase in insecticide use since 1945, crop losses due to insect damage have nearly doubled.
  7. Agricultural activities in Canada are responsible for almost 10% of greenhouse gas emissions in 2006.

Indigenous land rights

  1. Environmental health concerns of indigenous people tied to colonization of diet and poverty.
  2. Ignoring historical indigenous agricultural practices favours colonization and land usurption


  • Industry pressures - sugar, chemical companies, biofuel subsidies, etc.
  • Calorie rich-nutrient deficient supports - government subsidies.
  • Globalization of companies and flight of jobs keep wages low
  • Farm subsidies focus production on a few commodities, like corn and soy
  • WTO and the dumping of crops in developing countries
    Farm problems
  • Consolidation in the food industry, making it difficult for small farmers to sell their crops.
  • Consolidation of farms, squeezing out many local farmers
  • Loss of farmland to erosion and development
  • Collapse of small towns dependent on farming, suburbanization
    Food access issues
  • Cheap, processed food makes people obese and sick
  • Supermarkets are missing in rural, northern, First nation and inner city settings
  • People have lost basic cooking skills and connection with food

Are there solutions?
How can people become more self-reliant and improve their food skills?
How can the government affect the availability and affordability of nutritious food?
How can we save local communities, and preserve agricultural land?
How do we learn from Indigenous wisdom?
How can the food available become nutritious rather than fat and sugar-laden?

In what ways can we build community around the basic necessity of food that in turn creates creative solutions to community problems and helps create resource opportunities and know-how?

The course educational objectives
Students will:

  1. Analyze sustainability of food resources.
  2. Discuss sustainable livelihoods in food production and processing.
  3. Assess community food security.
  4. Discuss the different options for sustainable agriculture and sustainable food and the role of environmental farm plans and organic certification.
  5. Consider and assess interventions to improve sustainability of food resources.