Before Perry McLeod-Shabogesic started his first wild food bank, his aunt hadn’t had fresh deer meat in 20 years. She told him over tea one day.
“I left there and I thought, ‘Jeez, 20 years for her. Imagine other elders — maybe it’s been even longer.’”
McLeod-Shabogesic was living in N'biising (Nipissing) First Nation then, working as the traditional healing coordinator at the reserve near North Bay. The wild food bank he started there provided fresh game to anyone in need. He since moved to Sudbury where he now works with Shkagamik-Kwe Health Centre and runs a wild food bank for them.
Its operation is simple: When meat is available, anyone can come in and get some as long as they make an offering. The food bank’s four freezers are full of whatever has been caught recently: grouse, goose, beaver, moose, deer, elk, whitefish, trout and bass have all been available in the past.
“What we ask the community to do is to pass us a small tobacco tie [a small pouch of tobacco]. There's no money exchanged,” McLeod-Shabogesic says. “When we go out and harvest, we always offer tobacco for that animal to give itself to us. That tobacco that people will pass to me is part of them giving thanks for that animal.”
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The food bank had a rocky start. He asked hunters to give a small share of their kill to the food bank, but he found people were stingy — they’d donate leftovers or poor-quality cuts of meat.
“I decided ‘Well, the only way I'm going to get fresh stuff is I'm going to have to go hunting myself,’” he says. McLeod-Shabogesic says he wasn’t much of a hunter when he started, but he learned quickly.
Now that the word has spread about his Sudbury wild food bank, which he started about five years ago, the donations are rolling in. He now hunts regularly to fill the shelves and receives donations from others. When animals were improperly hunted and the Ministry of Natural Resources made a seizure, the meat would ordinarily have gone to waste, but instead it now goes to the wild food bank. Similarly, McLeod-Shabogesic says he often gets a call when an animal is hit and killed on the road and the meat is salvageable.
It’s illegal to serve wild game in a restaurant in Ontario. But the food bank operates well within the law, and everything is up to health and safety standards, he says.
“The way we do it, we don't cook the meat for them. That's when you run into those issues. It’s dropped off by the Ministry or us at a butcher and the butcher dresses it, cuts it wraps it and all we do is put it in the freezer and give it to the community members,” he says.
While the clientele is primarily aboriginal, McLeod-Shabogesic says anybody is welcome to the meat.
“We've already gone through five moose and we're just about empty. We just got another one - sixth one, we're picking up today. We're going to try to get a couple more to last until January,” he says.
“Once word gets out that we have it, the lineup is crazy some days, but it's great. They know the protocol, they come in. It doesn't have any chemicals, no steroids or antibiotics. It's good food.”
Images courtesy of Perry McLeod-Shabogesic.