Reading the Future in a Glass of Milk

Guest blog by Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc, Sustainable Food System Coordinator, Concordia University
Isabelle blog author_ENHalf listening to the radio as I prepared my dinner, I was suddenly struck by the words of the reporter and turned up the volume. The radio program was talking about a demonstration that had taken place earlier that day in front of a large milk-processing plant in Montreal. Some 50 milk producers had gathered there to denounce the use of diafiltered milk from the United States in the industrial production of dairy products. Diafiltered milk is a product that has been filtered several times in order to obtain a very high protein liquid. It is also available in powder form. Canadian customs authorities consider diafiltered milk an ingredient, making the product exempt from tariffs on milk. Major dairy processors are delighted with this situation, as diafiltered milk allows them to save money. Not only is this milk competitively priced, but given its high protein content, it is also more efficient than Quebec milk for the industrial production of yoghurt and cheese. My thoughts were immediately drawn to the concept of a more “efficient” milk.
Two months earlier, again in my kitchen listening to the same radio station, I heard a report on “cheese from the Canadienne breed of dairy cow.” The Quebec Minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food had recently conferred upon this homegrown product a reserved designation. The reserved designation is meant to encourage producers to raise this dairy breed, which is now threatened with extinction, and pique the appetite of a gourmet and locavore clientele. It should be noted that Canadian cows had dominated the province’s dairy industry up until the middle of the 19th century. Their decline began with the industrialization of the sector and the introduction of more “efficient” breeds…
If you listen to them back to back, I believe these two reports provide a portrait of what the next generation’s food system will look like – a world deeply shaped by two opposing movements: open markets and deregulation versus the pursuit of the ideal of food sovereignty.As you may have guessed, I am much more enthusiastic about milk from the Canadienne breed of cows than diafiltered milk.
For a little over a year, I’ve had the opportunity to help promote Quebec food products to Concordia University Food Services. This work is an incredibly rewarding learning experience. Just calculating the percentage of local food products bought by our food services is a challenge in itself, as it requires tracking down the often-unclear origin of the products that are ordered. Finding a Quebec beef supplier when the price of Alberta or Australian beef is otherwise more appealing, is an additional challenge. However, each small victory brings its share of hope.
City Farm School
The food system of the next generation will be full of inconsistencies, as foreshadowed in these two radio reports on dairy production and in the parallels that I have drawn between them here. Knowing that enrollment in agricultural school programs is on the rise throughout Quebec, I am looking to the next generation of farmers to come up with ideas and visions for our food future. The Banque de Terre project, which matches aspiring farmers with landowners, is a source of great inspiration. The sustainable food and urban farming projects that have sprung up at Concordia University are yet another reason to keep dreaming.
I turn off the radio to more fully savour my hot bowl of soup.

Who should we be watching for inspiration, ideas, vision about the future of food?

The Banque de Terre project, which matches aspiring farmers with landowners, is a source of great inspiration.

What is your comfort food:

There’s nothing quite like comfort food: a parsnip soup, made with ingredients from my latest winter organic vegetable basket.

About the author:

Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc has a Master’s degree in sociology and is involved in the sustainable food sector. She currently works at Concordia University, where she supports the introduction of local procurement practices in institutional food service operations.
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.