We all have a personal food policy that speaks to our health, our income level, our ethical and cultural priorities. Yet if we were to look at our country, we would find it deeply divided when it comes to food.
Four million Canadians are don’t have reliable access to food, and the situation is getting worse as food prices rise and Canada remains dependent on imports from the south. More than two thirds of those living on social assistance are food insecure, which means our policies so far are not working.
The biggest cause of food insecurity is poverty, which we know has other impacts on Canadian health. Rates of food insecurity are twice as high among visible minorities, and in remote northern communities it’s become an urgent crisis. It may surprise some to learn that sixty per cent of food insecure people are actually working — just not earning enough money.
Something is clearly wrong, and when one in eight Canadian jobs is involved in the food sector, policy action should be a priority for our leadership. With so many urgent food issues, Canada might finally be ready for a national food policy.
The Trudeau government announced intentions to develop one after the Eat Think Vote election campaign, in which hundreds of organizations participated. Civil society groups, farmers, experts and businesses have been calling for this for years. Between 2008 and 2011 more than 3000 people collaborated to write Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada, outlining the most critical issues.
"Sixty per cent of food insecure people are actually working — just not earning enough money."
Agriculture Minister Lawrence MacAulay received a mandate to develop “a food policy that promotes healthy living and safe food by putting more healthy, high-quality food, produced by Canadian ranchers and farmers, on the tables of families across the country.” Other Ministers also received food mandates, like reviewing and updating Nutrition North, a federal government program to make food more affordable in the North. Health Minister Jane Philpott is also instructed to take action on salt, trans-fats and marketing to kids.
This is all good news, but we need a comprehensive approach to address a history of policies that have made us into a nation of unhealthy, wasteful and environmentally harmful eaters. A national food policy should unite the efforts of scholars, entrepreneurs and advocates across fields, break down barriers between government departments, and allow us to overcome the connected challenges of unsustainable food production, climate change, and diet.
Healthy food goes beyond nutrition. It’s the end result of a food system that sustains natural resources, advances social justice and animal welfare, builds community, and fulfills the food and nutrition needs of all eaters and into the future.Solving the interrelated issues of food has long-term benefits, and a food policy would bring reform other policies too.
"We need a comprehensive approach."
- Our failure in health policies that don’t the urgent need to stem the tide of diet-related chronic disease overwhelming our healthcare system.
- Agricultural policy that focuses on export markets and commodity crops (the raw materials of junk food) and cannot meet the demand for local food or move towards food independence.
- Educational policies that fail to address the evidence that school children who are malnourished cannot maximize their opportunities for academic achievement.
- Northern subsidy programs which are inadequate, disrespectful of tradition and inefficient in reducing hunger.
The coming months will be critical to shape Canadian food policy. It must not be left to a single department to negotiate with predictable industry stakeholders. Industries are coming to recognize that profitability will depend on social license, and to gain consumer trust there must be more transparency and collaboration with other sectors.
What is really needed is an ongoing conversation for businesses, community groups and others affected, where some basic principles and short-term goals can be adopted and we can use the best research to identify solutions. This should be led by public policy makers from different departments in an open and collaborative process. This would be in stark contrast to what we have seen in recent years.
Food Secure Canada has suggested the creation of a National Food Policy Council. Food issues are not going away, but food insecurity can. We need all those affected to be part of the problem solving process.. Food is a key factor in health, climate change, economic growth and cultural vitality. It matters to everyone and there are initiatives around food from coast to coast to coast. It is time the government caught up.
We all have a role to play in creating a more sustainable food system. We all need to let our politicians know how deeply we care about the food and that we intend to be involved. Join Food Secure Canada at our National Assembly: Resetting the Table, in Toronto October 13-16th, where we shall share a delicious menu of new ideas for better food.
Diana Bronson joined Food Secure Canada as executive director in March 2012, and has worked to strengthen the organization as a national voice in the Canadian food security movement. She's trained in political science and sociology, with a professional background in journalism, human rights and negotiations around climate and technology. Diana's research, policy and advocacy work has centered on supporting social movements around the world, and has participated in numerous negotiations on human rights, climate change, technology and sustainable development over the past two decades.