by Lucy Sharratt
In the midst of the federal election campaign, a radical citizen-led plan to address some of our most pressing health, hunger, climate and agricultural-related issues was launched. The plan, called the People’s Food Policy (PFP), is all about food. The sweeping proposals come from communities across the country and call for an overhaul of federal policies governing all aspects of food: where it comes from, how it is produced and how all Canadians can have access to safe, nutritious food at all times.
The People’s Food Policy Project set out two years ago to identify policies needed to support Canadians as they work to create a food system “based on care and respect for humans and the natural world,” where food is viewed as a primary foundation for healthy lives, communities, economies and eco-systems. This goal contrasts sharply with our current industrial system, which has built a complex, centralized infrastructure to treat food as a market commodity. Through the People’s Food Policy, we now have a suite of policy proposals that, if implemented, would connect food, health, agriculture, the environment and social justice. The plan details the specific policies that we need to support the food system we want.
Policy for the people, by the people
“Policy-making is not just for politicians. Everyone who eats should have a say in the future of food,” states the PFP and this is why the proposals were built from the participation of thousands of people from across the country. Direct input and widespread involvement were the cornerstone of the PFP because “the government needs to institute a national food policy that is driven by the people.” The PFP says this strong citizen participation was needed so that food policy could reflect the values of the average Canadian.
The process of compiling the People’s Food Policy was a nation-wide conversation about the kind of food system Canadians want and what government can and should do to help make it happen. Over the past two years, 3,500 people participated in the creation of the new plan, including people in populated cities and remote communities and farmers, fishers and consumers. All contributed their ideas for food policy and it took many different types of interactions, including 350 submissions from individuals and groups, 250 so-called “Kitchen Table Talk” community gatherings, and three national meetings. Finally, the input was compiled into 10 discussion papers on different themes, summarized in the short document called “Resetting the Table.”
The People’s Food Policy was a monumental process but actually picks up from another in-depth citizen-led initiative of 30 years ago called the “People’s Food Commission.” The commission held hearings in 75 communities and revealed the structure of the food system in Canada and the experiences of Canadians, including the plight of small-scale farms and fisheries as well as rising levels of poverty in cities and among Indigenous people. The PFP now updates this analysis and adds current proposals for making change.
Policy: What is it good for?
When communities are busy creating solutions on the ground, policy can sometimes seem removed, complicated and possibly unnecessary, but the PFP explains that policy is simply the guidelines by which decisions are made. For example, everyone has a personal food policy by which they decide what foods they will eat, how and where they will get them and so on. For some people, their food policy is determined by religious beliefs or how much money they have to buy food. Others are restricted in the food they can eat by allergies or other health factors. The problem is the current clash between the personal food policies of Canadians and the policies of our institutions and governments.
The institutions we interact with, such as schools, municipalities, provinces and the federal government, have food policies even when these are not obviously about food but about things like transportation, water management or funding priorities. Water management policies of a city, for example, might be a barrier to the establishment of a community garden or federal policy that allows for the patenting of seeds might be a barrier to a community developing their own locally adapted varieties. The purpose of the PFP is to spell out policies that would help rather than hinder the food movement.
Food policy or bust
“Our food system is failing us,” said Amanda Sheedy, PFP coordinator. “The status quo is no longer an option.” The PFP points out that right now close to two and a half million Canadians regularly have trouble putting food on the table. Canada is the only G8 country without a nationally-funded school meal program. At the same time, thousands of family farms are disappearing every year.
People across Canada are already taking matters into their own hands, connecting directly with food producers, reclaiming indigenous food systems and setting up food policy councils. All of this work is already transforming our food system from the ground up. Policies now need to support this work or get out of the way.
Lucy Sharratt is the Coordinator for the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. www.cban.ca
Help create a national food policy
Sign on to the pledge to support a national food policy atwww.peoplesfoodpolicy.ca
A national food policy will:
- Localize the system so food is eaten as close as possible to where it is produced and food dollars support the local economy.
- Support food providers in a widespread shift to ecological production, including programs to support new farmers getting on the land.
- Enact federal poverty elimination and prevention programs to ensure Canadians can better afford healthy food.
- Create a nationally funded children and food strategy. Ensure the public is actively involved in decisions that affect the food system.