I went to the grocery store the other day and had my attitude adjusted. Thought I’d pick up a bag of milk – it was $16.00 for three liters. Yup. And the bottle of ketchup I looked at was $14.99 – no kidding. And three, tiny, pale triangles of under-ripe watermelon on a Styrofoam tray? A stunning $3.99.
Where was this madly over-priced grocery emporium, you’re asking? Pond Inlet, 1069 kms north of Iqaluit, in Nunavut, on Baffin Island. I was there, enroute to an Arctic camp on the polar sea ice, 80 kilometers further north (If you’re interested, you can read all about that adventure in the travel section of “The Toronto Star” sometime in the next few weeks.)
When you’re camping that far from civilization, you can’t afford to forget anything – hence my trip to the grocery store. Knowing that everything that comes to the far north travels by plane or ship, I’d been prepared for high prices, but what I found boggled my mind – and made me long for Niagara’s food bounty.
That grocery store sticker-shock stayed with me – and it’s spurred a whole new appreciation for what we have, right here in our own backyard. Despite a spring that created challenges for our fruit and vegetable farmers, our produce stands are now groaning under the weight of piles of healthy, affordable deliciousness. All we have to do is go and get it.
The woman I sat next to on my flight north was Inuit. Tiny and weathered, Martha looked fifteen years older than she told me she was.
“I have to hunt seal to feed my grandchildren,” Martha told me, describing how she kneels for hours by a hole in the ice. When the seal finally sticks its nose in the air, she told me, she has to hook it, drag it from the water, butcher it and strap it to her snowmobile, all the while watching nervously for polar bears who might be out hunting for grandmothers. “People from the south think hunting is wrong, but I can’t afford the grocery store prices and,” she’d gestured out the window at the snow-covered tundra, “I can’t grow anything here.”
Since coming home, I’ve thought of Martha every time I’ve eaten a strawberry, bought a basket of plums, or savoured a juicy, ripe raspberry and I’ve developed a whole new mindset about food. The bounty we have here is something to be appreciated, explored and celebrated every single day. As Niagarans, we need to recognize that we’re incredibly lucky to live in the midst of such riches.