Collaboratively Changing the Narrative for a National Food Policy: Resetting the Table with Food Secure Canada

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Author: Josie Di Felice

Posted: October 20, 2016

Categories: GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Ontario

Resetting the Table - Sunday PlenaryWe are here to celebrate food and what it can do for the human condition,” shared Dr. Wayne Roberts in his opening remarks this past weekend at Resetting the Table, Food Secure Canada’s 9th National Assembly.

The Assembly marked 15 years of public engagement and activism for Food Secure Canada (FSC), aimed at building a more healthy, sustainable and equitable food system, as FSC first began at Ryerson University in 2001.

Friday morning’s plenary, which drew a large, engaged crowd at the Ryerson Theatre, was quick to acknowledge how spectacularly the movement has grown in those 15 years.

With the announcement of the creation of a National Food Policy in the Mandate Letter of the Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food, a top priority of the Assembly was to explore what that might (and should) mean for the diverse people across Canada. This included addressing the most critical problems in our food system, while building meaningful partnerships and dialogue that will hopefully result in action.

An innovative National Food Policy demands more than minor tweaking of existing policies; it requires a bold integrated vision that supports the many people across the country – meaning intergovernmental relations, nation-to-nation relations with Indigenous people, support for new farmers, supportive and affordable healthcare, youth engagement, and action on climate change. After all, we know that food policy isn’t just about food: it greatly affects our diversity of people, our environment, our health, our employment and our economy.

And it’s imperative to have these diversity of perspectives at the table.

Julie Dabrusin, MP for Toronto-Danforth, spoke at Friday morning’s plenary on why food policy is important to us all, highlighting that we must “string these issues together”. Resetting the Table - Friday PlenaryIn her introductory and welcoming remarks, FSC Executive Director Diana Bronson also touched on these many interrelated issues that were of focus the next few days, with the hopeful message that we are being heard (referencing the success of the Eat Think Vote Campaign).

Mustafa Koc, a Professor at Ryerson University, reviewed some of the staggering numbers: the FAO shows 795 million people in the world are undernourished; the WHO shows 1.9 billion are overweight, and 600 million obese. With a diabetes epidemic, people going hungry, the price of food, and various environmental and energy issues, we must consider: how did we get here? Mustafa considers technological determinism, market fundamentalism, consumerism, short-term thinking, and not paying attention to interrelations. Let’s get away from binary thinking, Mustafa urged, and recognize the complexity of these issues that call for collective solutions and systemic change.

Greg Meredith, Assistant Deputy Minister, Strategic Policy, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, acknowledged this need for diverse voices to contribute to a National Food Policy, and how groups like FSC can help with this bridging. Greg explored the various set of policy issues a National Food Policy framework could touch on: food security, nutrition, food safety, waste, local food, trade, culinary tourism, environment.

Jan Slomp, President of the National Farmers Union, strongly challenged today’s current industrial system, stating that “we are sacrificing a democratic food system for a global trade system.” Jan called on the need to listen to independent organizations like the NFU.

Paul Taylor, with Gordon Neighbourhood House, described his own childhood experience with food insecurity, with the significant reminder that Canada is the only G8 country without a national school meal plan. Paul would be one of many voices over the weekend to explain that charity is not a solution to poverty, and that a National Food Policy is an opportunity to build a more just country. A National Food Policy, Paul explained, must consider that 4 million Canadians are hungry. It is a matter of economic and social policy, too.

Joanna Kerr with Greenpeace Canada spoke about the links we need to constantly be making to build strong integrated movements: it is not just policy change, but system change. Joanna explained how we can learn from previous environmental battles – it is about changing the narrative, and changing mindsets.

Food Policy Friday SessionThe “Getting the National Food Policy We Want” session that followed the plenary echoed and complemented many of these thoughts. How does civil society participate in food policy? A diversity of voices and perspectives are needed to build a holistic approach. And it’s not just about the policy – it’s about the people. People must make their voices heard and mobilize on action together.

In this session, Dr. John Ikerd questioned why we haven’t even reached present-day sustainability; and to exuberant applause, said that youth, women and Indigenous people need to take the power away from those who are holding on to it.

The Assembly also had Indigenous food sovereignty at the centre of its deliberations. An impassioned plenary on Thursday evening, Decolonizing the Table – an Evening on Indigenous Food Sovereignty, officially kicked off the conference, which you can view on the FSC Facebook page. Food Secure Canada has said that at this time in Canada’s history, we cannot try to fix our food system without tackling the legacy of colonialism and residential schools, and acknowledging the urgency of Indigenous food sovereignty.

The issues ingrained in our food system are not isolated, and should not be dealt with as such. A collaborative, integrated approach is necessary, and we must continue to consider what food sovereignty, and what a National Food Policy, means for us all, including those who have been marginalized.

Thanks to all who visited at our table at the Assembly!

Thanks to all who visited our table at the Assembly!

Resetting the Table provided for many powerful and insightful discussions from a plethora of inspiring speakers who brought their many perspectives. Sustain Ontario is eager to see and engage with what grows from these important discussions.

Congratulations to the Food Secure Canada team!