Over the past few weeks, we have learned a good deal about what can be done to improve food security in Canada, a key element of our collective health.
The scope of the issue is considerable, with over 3 million Canadians not getting enough to eat to 2014, but what really stands out in PROOF's work is the growing nature of the problem.
Hon. Lawrence MacAulay
With food insecurity growing across Canada, the onus to act is on government officials like Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Foods Lawrence MacAulay. Minister MacAulay has a special role to play because of his responsibility to develop a national food policy.
Lessons from the practical activities of people like Gord Enns of the Saskatoon Food Council need to be combined with the focus on food production of researchers like Wanda Martin as this new national approach is being designed. This said, implementation does not automatically follow planning, a lesson that advocates of action on improving food security know well.
Canada's Action Plan for Food Security was drafted in 1998 following the country's participation in the UN's World Food Summit. It included references to the right to food — a focus of Professor Emeritus Graham Riches - as well as a recognition that food insecurity occurs in every country, regardless of overall wealth. Considerable focus was placed on developing a clear understanding of what food insecurity looks like in Canada in the Action Plan as, at the time, we had no national survey which tracked the extent of the problem.
Real action to reduce hunger was not, unfortunately, a legacy of the Action Plan — instead, subsequent progress reports revealed a 'patchwork' approach to combating food insecurity which did not rely on a data-based understanding of the problem to design solutions. This is despite some serious action being taken at the provincial level to reduce food insecurity, such as those attributed to Newfoundland & Labrador's poverty reduction strategy. More recently, ideas like basic income and the living wage have been attracting serious attention, two interventions which would strike at the relationship between low income and food insecurity. Other factors like the costs of housing, childcare and access to civil support also contribute significantly to problems accessing food. These social determinants of health and well being cannot be disconnected, and any plan to improve Canadian food security must recognize this range of economic and social challenges.
There is an opportunity today to replace this patchwork with something more complete, an approach to improving food security which recognizes that many food security organizations work at the local level, that much of our food production is export-oriented and does not go directly to feeding Canadians, and that the experience of food insecurity is closely tied to income level. While the federal government cannot be expected to solve this issue alone, what does need to change is its level of commitment to backing sustained and significant action to improve food security.
"Any plan to improve Canadian food security must recognize this range of economic and social challenges."
Upstream will be closely following Minister MacAulty's work on developing a national food policy, and will be encouraging him to use it to improve food security. Drawing on the work of our food security contributors, we will be developing a formal submission to the Minister that links the health of Canadians to the national food policy, and provide options for action. We would love to hear from you on what you think a national food policy ought to do to improve food security; reach out on Twitter, Facebook, or via email.
Cody Sharpe is Upstream's Policy Coordinator. He is currently completing his PhD in public policy at the Johnson Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy.