Our food choices are shaped by a wide range of factors – everything from personal and family preferences, dietary needs, our values, what we can afford, and what’s available.
A commonly held perception is that if we “vote” with our dollars, then food retailers will respond. Our market system is much more complex, however, and this belief masks the complex and multiple ways in which food systems, including governments and corporations, shape our food choices. This belief also leaves out many individuals living on low incomes, as they have less with which to “vote.”
Food sovereignty is the right of peoples to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agriculture systems.
Food sovereignty offers the opportunity to transform us from “consumers” to engaged citizens through democratic participation in our food systems. While consumer and shareholder activism can be effective in sending messages to food companies, civic engagement enables us to extend our influence beyond what’s in our pockets to shape our food choices by working together and with government to inform policy. At the end of the day, it’s about democracy and power.
A recent Nova Scotian example comes from our dairy sector. While Nova Scotia dairy farmers continue to supply us with milk products, the companies and brands with which we are familiar have changed. Agropur, a national dairy co-operative, took over Farmers, and Saputo owns both the Scotsburn and Baxter’s brands. Farmers used to offer a 10% blend cream product that had only two ingredients: milk and cream. In the past month, Farmers’ has joined Saputo in only offering blend cream with additives; so all blend cream products sold in Nova Scotia now have additives. With these kinds of changes, grocery stores filled with food still don’t offer a real choice for those wanting their preferred milk and cream option.
Public health evidence has overwhelmingly demonstrated that we need more whole and healthy foods, rather than foods with added sugars, salts, fats and other additives, to help address the high rates of chronic disease, such as heart disease, diabetes, stroke, and some forms of cancer. This small example illustrates one of the many regulatory, marketing and food production decisions that shape our food choices and, ultimately, our health and wellbeing.
I think what’s often the most challenging part of these situations is the frustration people feel, wondering how and whether they can make a difference. One voice can be powerful and there are inspiring examples of individuals sparking change. Typically, working together enables us to have greater impact, and some of the tools at our disposal include: social media, letter writing, petitions, campaigns, and dialogues.
You can join others in signing a citizen-led petition calling for the NS provincial government to take action on blend cream additives.
To learn more:
What is Food Sovereignty: https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty
Introducing Food Sovereignty to Canada: https://foodsecurecanada.org/files/PFPPforJapan.pdf
Satya Ramen is a Senior Coordinator, Community Food, Policy & Civic Engagement with the Our Food Project of the Ecology Action Centre.
Adventures in Local Food is your source for food news in Nova Scotia, from pickles to policy. It is a project organized by the Ecology Action Centre.