I write this blog on a plane having just watched Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. The film ends as Moore reminisces about the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989, when people simply took hammers and chisels to the concrete structure that had outlived its usefulness to anyone. I believe the food system for the next generation of Canadians will be as different from today’s as the Germany of Chancellor Merkel is different from the Germany she grew up in.
Just as East Germans no longer believed the Soviet lie, consumers, particularly younger consumers, no longer trust our food system. There are many signs that the future of food will be more local, diversified, decentralized, sustainable, organic. In fact, the local system is already thriving on the margins of the dominant system, despite a policy environment that has been geared for decades to industrial production where success is measured by the growth of exports. Government policy has been increasingly out of sync with the way more and more people are looking at food: they are concerned about the health impacts of the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides; they are frightened by the collapse of entire species (bees, monarchs, tuna); and the risks involved in extreme forms of genetic modification (synthetic biology, GM fish); they mistrust the products of industrial and factory farming and they are concerned about the rights of workers and farmers and fishers to make decent livelihoods while growing the food we need to survive. When given the option, as we saw recently in the French’s Ketchup controversy, they are fiercely local.
The food system I expect to see in the next generation will be more diversified and transparent.
There will still be large-scale industrial operations producing commodities for export. But more and more Canadians, and our public institutions like schools and hospitals, will be growing their own food or buying from local suppliers, often directly from the farmers or in some form of community supported agriculture. The decentralization and localization of our food system will be accompanied by a renewable energy revolution and far better access to information as we collectively enhance our ability to consume responsibly. This will require rebuilding the middle – the processors, transportation and storage infrastructure, abattoirs, and so on, energizing local economies and fueling job growth. Women, young people, Indigenous Canadians and new immigrants will all play important roles in this transition.
There will be major hurdles to overcome on the way and the most critical factor will be what role governments will play. Can they be forward-looking enough to assist — or even lead — the transition, or will they lag behind the population who will continue to build their own black market food system of bundle and barter and bake. There are many signs of policy innovation at the municipal and provincial levels but it remains to be seen if Canada as a whole will seize the moment and develop a joined up food policy, described by Rod MacRae as “the coherent and comprehensive policy environment that links food system function and behaviour to the goals of health promotion, social justice and environmental sustainability.” National food policy developed in consultation with civil society is in the mandate letter of our Minister of Agriculture – its up to Canadians to see that it happens.
To be involved in the development of national food policy, join Food Secure Canada at our National Assembly in Toronto this October.
What is your comfort food?
A Buddha Bowl from Aux Vivres on a Friday night after a long week. Or the less healthy option, my mom’s mac and cheese (old cheddar please).
About the Author
This blog is part of the Future of Food series. We wanted to know: what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going, and what can we do to change the course? Over the next six months, we are handing the microphone over to 12 leading food thinkers in Canada to help answer these important questions.
Click here to view other posts in the series.