Developing holistic food policy in Canada (CSPC2021, Pre-conference sessions)

Hello, and welcome to a very special dispatch from scientificanada. I’m your host Adam Fortais. Soon, the Canadian Science Policy Conference will begin, but before it does, we’ve got a handful of pre-conference panels and sessions to wet (whet) our whistles, so to speak. I will be doing my best to provide some coverage of the sessions as they come. I’m predicting that I will get overwhelmed at some point in the next two weeks, so don’t expect a nightly debrief, but I’ll do my best to get these out as quickly as possible. 

I will be taking notes and recording audio so you can access this stuff however you find most comfortable. The audio will be uploaded to YouTube in case you are looking for captioning. If there are any other ways I can make these more accessible, let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate.

LISTEN // CAPTION


In 2019 a federal budget item was announced and $134 million was set aside for what is considered the first-ever FOOD POLICY FOR CANADA. Qualitatively, income disparity and unequal access to affordable, healthful food is a fundamental problem we face. Multiple government departments play a part in ensuring Canadians have access to good food because it’s a complicated issue. But getting a bunch of separate departments to work efficiently toward an amorphous goal like this is probably pretty difficult. So, that is the argument for creating the Food Policy for Canada. 

The first pre-conference session at the CSPC2021 was a panel discussion with five members of the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council who introduced us to the Food Policy for Canada, and presented their opinions on key priorities for the new government, and reflected on barriers to be overcome.

This session was organized by the University of Guelph, and moderated by U Guelph’s Malcolm Campbell, Vice-President (Research). His background is in plant genome biology. Except it wasn’t. It was Evan Fraser.


There were a few technical hiccups here and there, so we weren’t able to hear from everyone, but the session was essentially getting to know some of the members of Food Policy for Canada team, what their group’s goals are, and their philosophies and initial thoughts on how to achieve these goals. Before getting to the specifics, let me tell you some things about The Food Policy for Canada, taken from their website. 

Food systems, including the way food is produced, processed, distributed, consumed, and disposed of, have direct impacts on the lives of Canadians. Food systems are interconnected and are integral to the wellbeing of communities, including northern and Indigenous communities, public health, environmental sustainability, and the strength of the economy.

All orders of government, including many federal departments, have taken actions to address food system issues, for example through:

income support programs that reduce poverty, that can also reduce food insecurity

policies to improve food environments and support healthier food choices

initiatives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, including in the agriculture and food sector

investments in innovation to increase the agriculture and food sector’s capacity to produce high-quality food

Despite this wide range of actions being taken, issues still exist in the Canadian food system. For example, around one million Canadian households are not able to access healthy food, almost two in three Canadian adults are overweight or obese, and about one third of food produced in Canada is wasted. These important societal challenges require multi-faceted solutions.

Introductions

The first round of discussion focused on the point of the Policy group. Gisele talked about previous examples of similar initiatives, dating back to the 70’s. While all of the initiatives she talked about were different, what they had in common was the idea of a unified force for addressing food issues. She also made it clear that an effective group needs appropriate representation, and actual teeth. She expressed concern that these types of initiatives run the risk of turning into think-tanks with no real ability to enact change. I think she used the term, “decorative, multi-stake holder, window-dressing”, which I loved. She is cautiously optimistic. 

Connor added to the discussion on representation, drawing from the difficulties the LGBTQ community has with finding space in these sorts of discussions. He also made a point to mention that yes, he is speaking of one specific marginalized community, but similar principles apply to other marginalized communities. The specifics will differ, but the sentiment of bringing EVERYONE to the table, so to speak, is a high priority.

Sylvie spoke to the links all along the processing chain. The food policy was made to guide decisions and address the linkages within the system. Diverse perspectives to oversee the implementation. Build consensus, ID gaps, build trust between stakeholders, help collaborate. 

Joseph also made the point that including everyone means understanding that not everyone is able to volunteer time to these projects. It’s a known problem that marginalized groups are implicitly excluded when committees and groups demand participants give up productivity in other areas of their lives to have a voice. 

Granular vs holistic

An important part of the discussion was about granular solutions vs holistic solutions. Basically, Food Policy is a HUGE topic. It affects everyone, and so many areas of government have some connection to it. So a natural question is, how should we approach this problem? Taking small chunks one at a time, and letting different areas of government solve things in their own way? Or is there merit to a unified approach between different agencies and whatnot. 

Gisele explained that there are international examples that seem to work. Korea has a school food program that is a collaborative effort between multiple sections of government., for example. Solutions won’t come from one department, but I think they need to be joined in one… I’m personally not well versed in this, but apparently the way the government has approached housing could be good inspiration for how to make this Policy group work. Needs to be a holistic approach, it’s not just a tech problem or a social problem. 

Sylvie pushed back a little bit on that, I don’t think she was disagreeing, but emphasized that approaching things in a too-zoomed-out way won’t work.  

Rights-based approach

The last bit I wanted to focus on was a discussion about rights-based approaches to Food Policy. This is an idea I’d not come up against before, but it makes a ton of sense. My understanding after this session is that a “rights-based” approach gives priority to interests tied to the rights of people over stakeholders. Ok, when I say this, you’re probably going to think it’s obvious but here it goes:

There is a requirement to prioritize the rights of indigineous communities over economic contractors. Not to the exclusion of industry, but still. For example, Northern Ontario is effectively one large forestry and mining community; towns 1 hour apart. But these are traditional territories that people live on. So Rights Holders first, then Stakeholders. Food, water, living FIRST, then exploiting natural bounties. Two distinct systems: natural resources are provincial, indigenous stuff is federal. So the idea is bumping Indigeonous RIGHTS above stakeholder interest but all levels have to be on the same page.  

Related to this, was an audience question.

A significant barrier to integrated resources management  (food, water, natural resources, etc.) is the division of responsibility between the federal and provincial governments, as outlined in the constitution. For example, this is especially relevant for agricultural water use, as rivers/water sources between jurisdictions. How can we overcome this barrier in targeting systemic change to improve food security?

Joseph: It’s a unique CDN challenge. Water vs Land vs Navigable Waters vs local rivers, etc, are compartmentalized in a colonized way that doesn’t really make sense. We are living with the mindset of an outsider coming in, divvying up with the interest of extraction. What does an INDIGENOUS meaning “emergent from place” government look like? If it was designed from the perspective of people who belong here? 

Gisele: Redo supply chains. The old joke, “it’s easier to trade internationally than between provinces”


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Live notes 

Gisele: Change in discourse, especially compared to the 90s. 70’s had People’s Food Commission. 2008 – people’s food something something. All historically pushed for a joined force. Very modest budget (over 5 years). Concern: correct representation? Teeth? Can they actually do anything? Or is it decorative multi-stake holder window-dressing. Social justice issues need to be addressed, and environmental issues. Cautiously optimistic. Survived another election (same minister).

Q: Is the question too broad? Should we divide social and tech?

A: There are international examples that seem to work. Korea has a school food program that bridges, for example. Not one department, but I think they need to be joined in one… Use housing as a model for how to make this Policy group work. Needs to be a holistic approach, it’s not just a tech problem. 

Connor: Yes, I am a 5th gen farmer, but I also bring my LGBTQ concerns to the food system. What kind of untapped role do queer folk fit in? How do we represent this community? Yes, it’s just one community but it feeds into larger questions for other marginalized communities. Needs more teeth, says Connor. We could fall into the silo or think tank that presents ideas but can’t actually DO anything. Project: Four Stories in Food Sovereignty.

Sylvie: Talking about the processing sector. The food policy was made to guide decisions and address the linkages within the system. Diverse perspectives to oversee the implementation. Build consensus, ID gaps, build trust between stakeholders, help collaborate. 

Q: So we have this big system, producers, suppliers, race, power, divides, etc etc. Should we look at it as a broad thing, or slice it apart. Holistic vs reductionist. What’s your perspective?

A: Should go granular or it’s too complicated. Not exactly disagreeing with Gisele (I don’t think), but emphasizing that we need to address individual, small bits but with an overarching committee type thing?

Joseph: Stakeholders vs Rightsholders. If we want voices at the table, we need to make it possible for them to be there. Compensating for time, etc. “this is a voluntary ….” is implicitly exclusionary. Concerns when the minister comes, speaks, then leaves. Relying on bureaucrats to interpret and deliver information. Efficient? 

Q: What do you mean by a “rights-based” approach? (forgive us but we are both from universities so apologies for getting academic, but indulge us)

A: Aboriginal and treaty rights. There is a requirement to prioritize the rights of indigineous communities over economic contractors. Not to the exclusion of industry, but still. Northern Ontario is effectively one large forestry and mining community; towns 1 hour apart. But these are traditional territories. So Rights Holders first, then Stakeholders. Food, water, living FIRST, then exploiting natural bounties. Two distinct systems: natural resources are provincial, indigenous stuff is federal. So the idea is bumping Indigeonous RIGHTS above stakeholder interest but all levels have to be on the same page.  

Gisele

Q: New gov, what do you want?

A: A written, renewed commitment saying CHARITY is NOT a SOLUTION for food and shelter assurance. Indigenous food sovereignty. Commit to 1.5 C. Commit to pollinators etc, and not destroying our world. Then all of this trickles down. Close to school food, would like to make sure indig communities are consulted as well. Publicly shared minutes of meetings? How to get to 2030. Shout out to Toronto, just passed a black food sovereignty.

Connor:

Q: New gov priorities?

A: +1 on all of Gisele. Data collection framework to get granular components of society, what are the needs of specific areas? Communities? Hunger reduction strategy!!! Why does Canada have anyone going hungry when we export so much? We have the opportunity and means, as a wealthy country, to do so. Hunger is also highly affecting black/queer communities. Farmer mentorship – learned much from my grandparents. This is common with indigeonous communities. If we want to expand, and have the lifestyle not be simply toiling in the mud, it will make it more accessible to other marginalized groups and not just legacy white dudes. 

Sylvie

Q: Same question

A: We are all siloed. We need to innovate in the way we are doing things. Have not tackled the real problems despite talking about them all the time. Food waste! A huge problem right now; supposedly we waste nearly half of our food (??) Problems in prairies and farms with climate change…

Joseph

Q: Barriers and priorities?

A: We haven’t had a truth telling around land and economy yet, just residential schools really. Having that in a national forum would be good. Mentioned something about “the money” rolling out to 5 different charities with little indigenous involvement? Not sure what this refers to but will look into it. 

Audience Questions

A significant barrier to integrated resources management  (food, water, natural resources, etc.) is the division of responsibility between the federal and provincial governments, as outlined in the constitution. For example, this is especially relevant for agricultural water use, as rivers/water sources between jurisdictions. How can we overcome this barrier in targeting systemic change to improve food security?

Joseph: It’s a unique CDN challenge. Water vs Land vs Navigable Waters vs local rivers, etc, are compartmentalized in a colonized way that doesn’t really make sense. We are living with the mindset of an outsider coming in, divvying up with the interest of extraction. What does an INDIGENOUS meaning “emergent from place” government look like? If it was designed from the perspective of people who belong here? 

Gisele: Redo supply chains. The old joke, “it’s easier to trade internationally than between provinces”

Last words

Sylvie: Excited about the 4 working groups, and what they will bring to the minister in THE NEXT 4 DAYS???

Connor: Farmers for Climate ____. Excited to learn from equity and inclusion groups and getting ideas on applying their info to our mission. Taking the torch and walking it forward. 

Gisele: Some random thoughts! COP26. Feeding the world is just a supply chain issue. Quote “Food is the single strongest lever to optimize human health and environmental sustainability on Earth..” Lancet Report

The Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council

Minister Bibeau launches second half of $20-million Food Waste Reduction Challenge – Canada.ca

Food Waste Reduction Challenge: Novel Technologies (Streams C & D), external

Twenty-four innovators advance to Food Waste Reduction Challenge semi-finals – Canada.ca

The Food Policy for Canada

City Council approves first Black Food Sovereignty Plan

Professor & Vice-president Research Malcolm Campbell

Professor & Vice-president Research Malcolm Campbell

Scientist/Researcher

University Of Guelph

The five panel members were:

Sylvie Cloutier

CEO, Quebec Food Processing Council (CTAQ), Sylvie Cloutier

Professor Evan Fraser

Professor Evan Fraser

Senior Management (Director, Manager)

Arrell Food Institute At The University Of Guelph

Associate Dean, Equity & Inclusion Joseph LeBlanc

Associate Dean, Equity & Inclusion Joseph LeBlanc

Executive (President, VP, Executive Director)

Northern Ontario School Of Medicine

Mr Connor Williamson

Mr Connor Williamson

Scientist/Researcher

Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council

Executive Director, Food Secure Canada Gisèle Yasmeen

Executive Director, Food Secure Canada Gisèle Yasmeen

Executive (President, VP, Executive Director)

Food Secure Canada

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