Food Security – Summary by Chris E

A restaurant and bar´s probably the best place for a talk on food. Better even than a farm, especially with the rain storm we had on Tuesday night

The latest edition of Why Should I Care? focused on food security-an issue with many, many, many facets to it, as the range of questions proved. Our guest speaker was Darcy Higgins, Executive Director of the Food Forward Advocacy Alliance a Toronto-based, registered non-profit organization advocating for a better food system.

Food Forward works with the public, politicians and those involved in the food sector to educate and advocate for food that is local, accessible, sustainable, ethically produced and a lot healthier. Making all that happen will be a lot of work.

Darcy asked us-amid the clink of forks on plates-what the problems were with our current food system. He got a lot of different answers. One of the main ones was the idea that unhealthy foods are subsidized, making them cheap, while healthier foods remain quite expensive. This causes increased health costs down the road. “Pay the doctor or pay the farmer,” said Darcy.

Other concerns included corporate control of the food system, and a shrinking population of farmers working the land. Canadian farmers are getting older, Darcy explained, and their sons and daughters aren´t being encouraged to continue the family tradition.

What can we do?

Darcy´s approach is to bring together diverse groups of stakeholders, to encourage greater awareness of our food industry and how it works.  This includes improving urban access to fresh, healthy food (many Torontonians live more than a kilometer from a grocery store), increasing healthy food options in public schools, and making farming a more viable career option for young people.

The resulting discussion was lengthy, lively and varied. Up for debate (as always) was the issue of government subsidies for certain crops-how involved should the government be in determining prices? On the issue of food shortage, it was confirmed that we don´t have one-in fact, we destroy an enormous amount of food every year. (Milk is poured down drains, yet the price of milk is high in Ontario.) Others questioned the role genetically modified organisms (GMOs) should play in our food supply.

Some guests told stories. The owner of an all-local gourmet food store, the Culinarium, explained his rationale for running his business. Another gentleman described his lifelong hobby of gardening: a source of fresh vegetables for his table since the Second World War. He also pointed out that, within two or three days of being picked, even vegetables you grow yourself taste no better than those from the store.

Of course we talked portion sizes, and obesity. Slaughterhouses came up too, with Darcy arguing the advantages of small-scale operations. He also explained why small-sized grocery stores matter. “Even a store like Sobeys needs to purchase in bulk,” he said. Only small operations can afford to fill a store with top quality meat and produce.

All in all, a nourishing evening for the mind. See you next month.

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