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From my garden window

Canada doesn't need to be one of the world's most wasteful countries.

Tulips are poking through the soil. My seed order has arrived. Even the thought of returning to the garden renews my spirit. Fresh, nutritious food during the summer and fall, with enough to share, is an extra blessing. Easy access to local, nutritious food should be true for far more people than it currently is.

I have written before about food insecurity, food waste and food policies in Canada. There has been some progress – but achingly slow. In other countries food issues cause riots and turf out leaders. Why is it such a low priority in Canada?

Goals vs reality

In 2015 the mandate for the Minister of Agriculture included a national food policy, with food insecurity as a priority. It took until 2019 to see the broad outlines of a food policy and a budget of $134 million. The four goals are positive:

Help Canadian communities access healthy food;
Make Canadian food the top choice at home and abroad;
Support food security in northern and Indigenous communities; and
Reduce food waste.

The targets are long-term: “By 2030, end hunger and ensure all have access to safe foods.”
By 2030, halve food waste at the retail and consumer levels, and reduce waste along the food chain.”

These align with the global Sustainable Development Goals. Among specific programs are a Food Waste Reduction Challenge to develop innovative ways to reduce food waste ($20 million) and Local Food Security Initiatives ($50 million). A National Advisory Council, announced in 2019, held its first meeting in March 2021.

Shortages and waste

By contrast the Agri-food Economic Strategy gets more attention and much bigger budgets. The focus on export-oriented agri-food overshadows food security. Trade issues have dominated the political agenda. Now COVID has drawn attention to our over-reliance on global supply chains and the situation of foreign workers in the agriculture sector. Some see agri-food industry goals, food security and food waste reduction as compatible goals, but others see these as competing or contradictory paths forward. The tensions in public policy are similar to spending billions in subsidies to fossil fuel industries and taking small steps toward clean energy. Perhaps the shift occurring in energy policy will also lead to a healthier balance in food policy.

While one out of eight families struggle to put nutritious food on their tables and 800,000 people visit foodbanks every month, Canada wastes over 800 pounds of food per person per year, at an estimated cost of $31 billion.

A higher level of urgency is warranted. While one out of eight families struggle to put nutritious food on their tables and 800,000 people visit foodbanks every month, Canada wastes over 800 pounds of food per person per year, at an estimated cost of $31 billion. This is a food system in need of major repair. In addition, food waste contributes to greenhouse gases. If global food waste was a country, it would have the third highest carbon footprint, only behind the U.S. and China, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Canada is one of the most wasteful countries.

There’s a win-win opportunity here. COVID has increased public interest in growing and eating healthy foods. Reducing food waste, improving access to good food for everyone, and addressing harmful emissions is an achievable goal. It requires action in kitchens, fields, food factories and public policies that shape our food choices. Let’s get our act together in Canada.

  • Kathy Vandergrift, a public policy analyst, brings experience in government, social justice work and a Master’s Degree in Public Ethics to her reflections.

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