Iqaluit’s market based solution

Eeta Nuqinaq offers polar bear meat for sale. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

David Alexander selling some big beautiful Arctic char. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

Based on my inexpert count, this event, a country food market, drew well over 100 people to a downtown square in Iqaluit, despite a windchill that sank below -40 and froze my bared fingers down to the bone.

Food producers, mostly hunters, used the event to sell country foods that until now have been distributed throughout communities by way of informal sharing networks, especially within extended families.

I saw seal, polar bear and caribou meat for sale in generous quantities, as well as Arctic char and bannock. If you want protein, vitamins and minerals, this is just about the best food you can eat.

This isn’t the first time that country food has been offered for sale in Nunavut from a central location. The Amarok Hunters and Trapper Association’s country food store, whose aging building still sits at Iqaluit’s Four Corners, used to sell frozen country food in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Nunavut Department of Economic Development and Transportation provided money to pay some of the market’s expenses — how much, I don’t know. The department plans to spend more money in Nunavut this year on the promotion of country food distribution, including a revival of community freezers.

I’m sceptical, however, that this kind of scheme will reduce hunger and malnutrition in Nunavut. It takes cash to buy country food at such markets and it’s a lack of cash that prevents many Nunavut residents from feeding themselves properly. I suspect the erratic management of money and a lack of knowledge about how to buy and cook nutritional foods are also big reasons.

And Iqaluit, despite the presence of a large underclass who live in grim, desperate circumstances, is not a cash-poor community. Iqaluit’s median income stands at around $50,000 a year. So I wasn’t surprised to see many well-paid government and quasi-government workers showing up to buy country food. It remains to be seen if this approach can work in the territory’s cash-poor have-not communities, where median incomes range from $10,000 to $20,000 a year.

But at the same time, such markets likely give harvesters a chance to receive some compensation in exchange for the food they produce. You can’t expect to producers to increase production for free — not when the cost of gasoline, ammunition, snowmobiles and outboard motors is rising dramatically.

Alacie Joamie of Iqaluit puts her fresh bannock out for sale at the Iqaluit country food market held March 12, 2011. (PHOTO BY JIM BELL)

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