Canada has more than a few fundamental problems with its food system. Despite historically being a land of plenty, we've whittled our resources (collapse of the cod industry, anyone? how embarrassing) and focused on what can be exported in large quantities. In the process, we've become so food-insecure it is frightening.
Personally, I find a lot of blame in the fact that our country as we know it is so young. Our youth made us reckless and our lack of respect for tradition - "terroir" en francais - left us unwilling to learn from aboriginal food traditions or cultivate Canadian food traditions. We have nothing in our food system to be proud of and no political movement on the horizon to save us from our pesticide-laden, antibiotic-dependent, hormone-ridden selves. Who lets big industry tyrannize a national food system? Idiots...
Yesterday, I read an article by Margaret Webb on food policy. She researched a Canadian grassroots movement that created a blueprint for a healthy, just and environmentally sustainable food system out of information and experiences gathered from the frontlines - the eaters and farmers that the food system does not serve, value or protect. Objectives include poverty prevention, re-localizing the food system and changing the meaning of food from a commodity to a public good.
"We get to pay for our food three times over: first, with $5 billion in tax dollars each year, largely to subsidize farmers growing ingredients for unhealthy food and for export; second, at the cash register, for often empty calories (which fatten us along with the bottom lines of food companies); and then we pay for the consequences of nutritionally poor food yet again, with very expensive healthcare tax dollars."
"[D]iet related chronic disease now accounts for two-thirds of direct costs to [the Canadian] healthcare system."
"One in 10 Canadians [are] food-insecure (lacking the resources to access enough nutritious food to maintain a healthy lifestyle)."
"A people's food system would... change the meaning of food, from primarily a commodity or economic driver to being a public good that serves multiple functions: improving health, sustaining environments, strengthening communities, returning a fair wage to food producers and supporting cultural traditions."
Establishing "national food policies are not new...[Brazil] recently addressed the appalling fact that one-third of its citizens did not have enough to eat by creating a national Food Security Policy. It set zero hunger as its target. Britain recently releases its Food 2030 national strategy, designed to increase sustainable food production at home and encourage people to healthier. Scotland established a National Food and Drink Policy with similar goals. Scandinavian countries established food policies decades ago, with health and local production goals."
The 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (sponsored by the UN, World Bank and World Health Organization) "determined that re-localizing food systems, investing in local agriculture and infrastructure, and supporting sustainable agriculture was the best way to reduce world hunger. Those strategies would also make the world's food system more sustainable and healthier, and help combat climate change. Of the 62 countries contributing to that assessment, 59 supported it - Canada, the United States and Australia did not."
In Canada, "pro-trade and pro-industrial agricultural policies... have little connection to health and environmental sustainability."
"Soybeans and corn, the cheap ingredients for processed food, fast food and junk food, now grow on half of Ontario cropland."
"Large, industrial factory farms produce 75% of our food, primarily from chemical-intensive monocultures (the cultivation of a single crop) and factory feeding operations that rely heavily on antibiotics."
"Canada's corporate-dominated food and agricultural system is not only squeezing nutrition out of food, but also the profits out of farming.Since 1991, some 62% of young farmers have fled the sector, either unable to make a living or unwilling to shoulder the enormous financial risk of "going big" to join the industrialized food system. [Of those still farming] most don't have succession plans because they don't want their children to farm in this current food system."
"That food producers struggle to make a living, not just in Canada but globally, as food shortages escalate around the world, is argument enough that we require dramatic and comprehensive reforms to our food systems."
Resources: People's Food Policy, Food Secure Canada.
Quotes from "Turning the Tables: Should Canada have a national food policy" by Margaret Webb in Diabetes Dialogue, Summer 2011. Photo from Google Images.