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Halfway through its first term, the federal government has begun to develop a national food policy for Canada, including launching online consultations with Canadians and hosting a summit with stakeholders. This was a commitment made within the ministerial mandate letter to the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food.
A friend asked me whether I think the national food policy will do any good. The People’s Food Policy Commission began some of this work in the 1970’s, engaging Canadians in identifying food issues and priorities, culminating in a 1980 report “The Land of Milk and Money.” In 2011, Food Secure Canada renewed engagement with Canadians through kitchen table talks to produce “Resetting the Table,” which remains a comprehensive and citizen-informed foundation for national food policy.
This is also not the first national effort to address food security. The 1996 World Food Summit saw the development of Canada’s Action Plan for Food Security (1998); the fifth (and, I believe, final) progress report was in 2008.
What gives me hope?
- The fact that we’re having these conversations. Five years ago, I would not have imagined a federally led national food policy.
- Food policy is complex touching on multiple areas, such as economic and trade policy, health, agriculture, fisheries, environment, and social supports, as well as crossing municipal/band council, provincial/territorial, national, and international jurisdictions. The government is recognizing the need for comprehensive, cross-cutting, and harmonized approaches.
- The process of developing a policy and strategy will raise awareness of these issues and help to bring this conversation into our collective conscious.
- Ecological health and climate change mitigation and adaptation in relation to food production seem to be part of the conversations.
- Sixteen federal departments and agencies are involved in the development of the policy.
- There are similar conversations happening within municipalities/councils, provinces/territories, as they explore how to build community food security.
- The federal government is also developing a National Poverty Reduction Strategy, which has the potential to address inadequate incomes as the root of household food insecurity if it strives to be more than poverty reduction and aims for poverty elimination.
What makes me cautious?
- National initiatives are subject to political will and can fall out of favour when newgovernments are formed. Both Australia and the UK undertook similar efforts, but the strategies were not implemented because of a change in government.
- We often focus on new policy development, but there are often inadequate resources for implementation and monitoring. Regardless of the quality of the proposed national food policy, it will take years to see real change.
- There are a number of competing voices and priorities at the table, which makes it difficult to build a common agenda.
- There is a tension between acting across multiple areas and trying to prioritize. We need to go beyond tweaking the edges and zero-sum scenarios towards holistic change that addresses this complex social issue.
- We haven’t fully figured out how to honour Indigenous and First Nation rights for food sovereignty and food as a human right.
- Fish remains on the fringes of these discussions, despite its importance as a source of basic nutrition for coastal communities in Canada and around the world.
- There are a number of ongoing related efforts that will need to be coordinated, such as the development of the Next Agricultural Policy Framework and the National Poverty Reduction Strategy.
Our work is only beginning. We need to continue to insist on processes that include a diversity of voices, sharing how policies, or lack thereof, are impacting our communities. We have to remain engaged, working with government and decision-makers to inform effective policy and policy implementation that goes beyond minor changes towards comprehensive change.
Learn more about national food policy conversations and background info.
The online survey is open until July 27, 2017
Blog Written by: Satya Ramen, Ecology Action Centre, Senior Coordinator, Policy Development & Civic Engagement
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. Learn more about our program
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We have invited guest blogger, Niki Black, to share some of the pressing food issues highlighted in the Eat Think Vote campaign, led by Food Secure Canada and others across Canada, in advance of the federal election on October 19, 2015. This week, Niki describes the importance of healthy food in schools for the future of our children.
How well do you learn on an empty stomach? Many of us are familiar with skipping lunches or grabbing convenient and cheap foods that fill us up temporarily, but just don’t last. Lacking the healthy fuel we need, it’s hard to concentrate and work through the energy lows. The consequences are unhealthy and unsustainable, yet we expose our children to these same habits simply by virtue of sending them to school. Maybe that’s where we learned them, too.
Canadian schools are sites of learning, but we often don’t think about the role food plays in supporting that learning or what we’re learning about food. Any school has some level of diversity and this extends to the lunch that each child brings (or doesn’t) and eats (or doesn’t). School food environments can create a reliance on highly processed products and are unwilling hotbeds of inequality. In the lunchroom, there is nothing quite as effective as peer pressure. The temptation for “cool” lunches often yields slickly-packaged and less healthy foods, heavily marketed to appeal. Many kids simply don’t have a choice, with food insecurity affecting 1 in 6 children in Canada.
We lack the investment and policy guidance to provide one of the most fundamental conditions for growth: good nutrition. The Eat Think Vote campaign, introduced here, calls for a Universal Healthy School Food Program to address those inequities and ensure that every child has a healthy start.
Current school nutrition initiatives are a loose patchwork of provincial policies and charitable organizations such as Breakfast for Learning Canada, but these efforts are not nearly enough. Food insecurity leaves our children at risk for poor performance, peer conflict, and health problems that can persist over the course of their lives (such as obesity). Parents and schools are trying, but they require a solid foundation. A paradigm shift is long overdue.
The nutritional challenges of our schools are symptomatic of a much deeper pathology. The UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food Olivier De Schutter released this scathing report after his mission to Canada in May 2012. In response, organizations such as Amnesty International turn a wary eye on us and wonder why this long-respected first world nation must rely on charity to patch its policy. Why don’t we transform those international condemnations into initiatives we can be respected for? Every person has the right to enough healthy food. Every single child.
Eat Think Vote calls for a 1 billion dollar cost-shared investment over five years to create just such a transformation. Reliable, sustainable meals at school can ease the pressure on family budgets, hectic morning schedules, students’ social lives, and the planet. Children will share nutritious food with their peers, thus fostering not only better learning opportunities but a deeper sense of equality and valuable food literacy to lay the foundation for healthy habits.
What might this look like? Imagine that every child has enough nutritious food to fuel their bodies and minds, and that every child understands how to make healthy choices, even if their circumstances don’t always allow it. Imagine what a nurturing role schools will play when gardens and cooking programs are as common as lockers and monkey bars, and children can eat together and respectfully accept that people have a wide range of food needs and cultural preferences. How might our nation’s food landscape heal when these food literate children use and share their knowledge both now and as they grow? We have a golden opportunity to create an ideal environment for sustainable learning and growth.
Sound appetizing? The election is almost upon us, but there is still time to sign the petition, share on social media, and get your chosen federal candidate involved. Let’s demand the best possible outcomes for one of our most valuable resources – our new generations. Today’s children will inherit our national challenges, and how we prepare them matters to everyone.