Speak4Rights 1: Panel discussion on food, sustainability and biodiversity

Audrey Folliot
JHR Concordia President
Photos by Niki Mohrdar

IMG_9825On Thursday, October 17, JHR Concordia kicked off another year dedicated to raising awareness about human rights issues in the world. The first event of the year, the first of the Speak4Rights series, marked the United Nations recognized World Food Day, which was October 16.

For the occasion, JHR organized a panel discussion around human rights, food sustainability, and biodiversity.  They had four speakers lined up, all from different areas of food and sustainability, with different backgrounds on the issues. The intimate crowd of attendees enjoyed free food and happy hour specials on drinks all night long as they educated themselves on these important issues.

First in line was Carol Gray, a Fulbright Visiting Research Scholar at the Loyola College for Diversity and Sustainability for this academic year.  Her main research is around human rights in Egypt, which led her to investigate the right to water in some countries as well as the effect of climate change on water.

Fullbright Scholar Carol Gray.

Fulbright Scholar Carol Gray.

As she spoke on water scarcity and the privatization of water, it was startling to see how dramatic the numbers were. To give you an idea, in the world, as many as 884 million people don’t have access to drinking water. Meanwhile, in the United States in 2005, as much as $100 billion was spent on bottles of water. As a result of water scarcity, by 2020, we can expect to see as many as 60 million environmental refugees migrating to Europe and North America from Sub-Saharan Africa.

Next in line was Gabriela Polanco of Sustainable Concordia, who came to speak about the organization’s work on campus. The organization is working on a sustainability policy for the university and has come up with 65 recommendations so far to improve sustainability, especially when it comes to infrastructures. She also touched upon sustainability in general and what could and should be done for Montreal to be the most sustainable city it can possibly be.

In her opinion, their biggest challenge right now lies in engaging the greater population to the issue. There still is very little education with regards to it and mentalities have to change in order for things to change.


Jonathan Rodrigue of Moisson Montreal.

Jonathan Rodrigue, from Moisson Montréal, then stood up to inform the audience on what the Montreal-based organization does. Founded in 1984, Moisson Montréal is the largest food bank on the Island of Montreal. They seek to provide a variety of quality and nutritious food to those who cannot afford to pay for their meals. Not only do they focus on food, but aside from being a food bank, Moisson Montreal is also involved in sustainable development and seek to defend the basic rights for the population in a situation of crisis.

Rodrigue gave more information on the meat-repackaging project that the organization is currently working on with as many as 60 grocery stores around the Island. He explained that, at the moment, Moisson Montreal recycles 95% of the food surplus that grocery stores and other food businesses donate them. It was also shocking to learn that as much as 45 to 50 per cent of the food that is produced ends up going to waste, for different reasons such as quality control, transportation, etc.

According to the organization’s annual report, approximately 150,000 people per month received food through community organizations partnering with Moisson Montreal in 2012-2013.

To close the panel, Pamela Fillion, from the Concordia-based People’s Potato, explained an alternative that is offered to hundreds of Concordia students and to the community at large who struggle financially. The People’s Potato is a collectively run soup kitchen located on the 7th floor of Concordia’s Hall building that offers vegan meals at lunchtime in exchange for a donation. However, this donation is of no set amount and no one gets turned down if they cannot afford to donate.

In addition to that, the People’s Potato runs a bi-monthly food bank to supplement their normal meal distribution. They also have a community garden at the Loyola campus, which they run during the summer. Anyone can come and purchase their fruits and vegetables there at a very low cost. They also write vegan cookbooks if you want to cook your own vegan meals at home!


Overall, audience and speakers interacted throughout the event, with students raising questions here and there about issues that matter and panellists answering to the best of their knowledge.

This event was a great way to raise awareness about a different aspect of human rights – food and sustainability – that may not always be touched upon but is equally important.

JHR Concordia’s next event will take place towards the end of November. Stay tuned!



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s