Does FOOD connect us all? How do these connections affect our politics, our economy, our art, our lives?

What does it mean to declare that food connects us all? Or to announce, willy-nilly,
that we need to work together towards a bold new vision of food and food policy, in Ontario and across Canada?
In a world where the better-off among us munch on organic produce shipped in from the furthest reaches of the globe, while others subsist off $1 specials at discount grocery stores, do those connections really exist, or are they merely words on paper?

Add your two cents, your observations, your proclamations, throw down your own gauntlet and discuss in this first part of a series of discussions on the ever-present force in all life: FOOD.

The following letter is being published in conjunction with the Alphabet City FOOD Festival and anthology. Check out the FOOD book here.

For your chance to win your own copy, get involved by commenting on each discussion. Be sure to check in and comment frequently as we’ll be adding discussion topics weekly. At the end of each discussion we will randomly draw a name and send the winner a copy of this year’s anthology, FOOD.





Alphabet City Open Letter

Once upon a time everyone thought the world was flat. Figuring out that it was round changed how we saw everything. Now the next revolution in perspective has taken hold — the world is not just round, it is connected. The Global Village — Marshall McLuhan’s phrase for the connected world created by new communications technologies — has arrived, and not just in communications but also with food and foodways. We think this global food village must be connected by conscience and fairness — to the other villagers, to our environment.

The way we grow, market, process, manufacture, and distribute our food here in Ontario reveals connections across the global village. Ontario’s working landscapes, farms, rural communities, and cities are linked in a web of complex exchanges. But our food policies to date have usually ignored that web, dividing rather than connecting. If we are going to build a healthy and sustainable village, we have to make the connections.

This letter is supported by, and represents the initiatives of, a network of organizations working on many aspects of food policy in Ontario. We are working together because we believe that food is connected to every major problem
being raised in the current provincial election campaign — rising medical costs, poverty and hunger, declining farm incomes, the paving-over of farmland, wildlife protection, urban sprawl, youth unemployment, and communities at risk.

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13 comment(s)

Darth MaulSeptember 21, 2007 09:28 EST

We need to replace the Ministry of Agriculture with the Ministry of Food.

Lea Z.September 21, 2007 14:57 EST

Hi Darth, the Ministry of Agriculture is actually called Agriculture and Agri-Food, although I'm not sure when that change happened. Their tag line reads "Providing information, research, technology, policies and programs for security of the food system, health of the environment and innovation for growth." That sounds fairly comprehensive already, with potential to work on a more expansive food policy for this country.

So my question is, how does a Ministry of Food differ from a Ministry of Agriculture (and Agri-Food)? What about those aspects of food (ie. food safety) that are under the auspices of Health Canada? Can a single ministry handle all angles of food, from factory standards on a box of imported chocolates to farm subsidies?

This sounds perhaps more like a matter of semantics than anything else... Say more, please!

Darth MaulSeptember 21, 2007 16:24 EST

Names matter, that's all. Agriculture is outdated. Min of Agriculture - defender of farmers. Min of Food - defender of humans.

UmmmmSeptember 21, 2007 23:40 EST

Yes, I can logically admit that food is the center of the human universe, next to sex, but over all I really don’t think it should be part of the political discussion. Along the baseline that a certain minimum standard of nutrition should be attained for all of society, yes, this is needed or required, but as an over arching discussion… Please give me a break. There are about five thousand other issues that should be taking center stage in place of this loosely written proclamation. The question that I am left with is why? Why? There is no salient direction to this argument, or anything for that matter. Though I have to assume that is the point. The idea that we (readers, voters, or whatever…) are supposed to come to ‘a’ conclusion or forced to think about food ‘out of the box’ seem rather elementary. You’ve taken one of, what three, four, five (who’s counting) basic needs for life and thrown it out as a discussion point. Come on? Draw a line in the sand? Give it some teeth, something to react too. Judging by the Alphabet City website\book they do have an open ended question that explores this, but why not create awareness through a cause? Am I missing something…..?

aerynSeptember 27, 2007 14:02 EST

dear ummmmm;
In my humble opinion, you are missing a big something: food is our fuel. It builds bodies and impassions minds. Wars are fought over it. Peace is brokered over it.

Food security, and it's close cousin, access to clean water, are you-bet-your-mother's-farmin' boots to become major parts of any political discussion in the years to come. As top soil is depleted and farmland's paved over, my two cents say that food supply will become a major issue in future.

It already is: our medical system is busting at the seams with those whose conditions are aggravated by poor nutrition. The S.A.D. "Standard American Diet" state of affairs is a known contibutor to disease. Diabetes alone, is projected to become a major epidemic. Epidemics cost money. Money is politics. Get my line?

Just a thought.

UmmmmSeptember 27, 2007 21:21 EST

Oh I get the line, but why is this, that, or any other specific topics stated in this here open letter. Stating that FOOD is the big something in a open public letter is a obvious fact - even if the intention is to get people to discuss and find their own way to the idea that food is more important. What I would say is to stat specific topics, as you have so kindly done, would have given a better launching pad for discussion and exploration of the topic at hand.... there is another line.

StaffSeptember 28, 2007 06:15 EST

We did a cool story about weekly grocery bills around the world - check it out 'Our Weekly Bread' - http://walrusmagazine.com/articles/2007.01-photo-essay-our-weekly-bread

Mary KainerOctober 04, 2007 01:46 EST

Local food sustainability needs to be central to discussions about our economy. We all too often hear about the need for more people in the country for economic growth. I suspect our local food production is already inadequate to serve our current population. We should be supporting the development of local, organic farming and local products and base our immigration policies on food supplies sufficient to sustain our population.

JamesOctober 04, 2007 20:30 EST

I agree with Mary above that local sustainability is an important consideration, but with respect I think we must acknowledge that much of Ontario's population is urban and requires a constant import of foodstuffs from elsewhere. Not based on a need for basic requirements, but in order to meet the market demand.

In Canada, poverty and hunger have little to do with the food supply. Poverty can clearly lead to hunger, but the former is caused by myriad societal factors which we must press our governments to address.

Hungry citizens no doubt care little whether their food is locally-grown or organic, as long as they have the dollars to buy it.

As a city-dweller, I have to make an extraordinary effort to obtain locally-grown produce. I do that by supporting local-to-you delivery and farmers' markets when and where they're seasonally available. But at my default supermarket, peaches are usually from Florida or California, and crap. So I don't buy them. I'm told that local producers cannot provide a guarantee of consistent deliery to competitive prices. Hmm.

I'd humbly suggest that there seem to be two quite different topics for discussion here:

(1) How can Ontario food-production and delivery policies evolve to ensure that the maximum number of Ontarians connect to the land through their purchase of local agricultural products?

(2) How can food products (whether local or not) be provided more broadly and effectively to those who are in need?

The issue of farmland and support for local farmers is an important but separate question, IMHO. We should keep in mind the current and long-standing fiasco in Europe, where a huge percentage of the EU budget is applied to farm subsidies — to prop up prices and to pay farmers NOT to plant crops in order to keep prices stable.

Just some personal thoughts...

Re-reading my notes above, they may seem right-wing. For context, I'd say I'm fiscally conservative but socially liberal. Yes, that can be challenging. This election, I voted Green.

Cheers to all.
James

citymsOctober 11, 2007 16:43 EST

As a single senior woman on disability pension, living in the city, a lot of my time, energy and budget is invested in the getting and fetching of food, not to mention preparing and consuming it at home. I eat healthy and am relieved to see that hefty health store costs for organic vegetables and products like brown rice are now being reduced by having these stocked at certain supermarkets. The lengths my friend, also on disability, will go to, to walk to a famers market to get fresh vegetables at marked down prices are nothing short of heroic!

StevenOctober 15, 2007 05:02 EST

Just reading the discussion and I love the myriad connections that are already taking place. It may be redundant to state that in our increasing consumerist lifestyles, the most political of acts is the spending of a single dollar - and, I believe, especially on food. For 'Ummm': if you're still not sure this is a valid "political discussion", I have one word for you...Monsanto. Google it and watch your mind spin. Cheers,

Steven

BruceOctober 26, 2007 14:55 EST

I'll start with the following premises:

1. the present system of importing much of our food from countries thousands of miles distant is unsustainable in terms of conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions;

2. from a health and ecological perspective, it is much better to eat locally grown organic food;

3. we need to preserve our irreplaceable agricultural lands to ensure future food security;

4. the present system of agri-business farming on a massive scale using chemical fertilizers, pesticides and growth hormone does untold harm to the soil and ground water, etc.

4. the present food supply system thrives because people want food at the lowest cost;

5. we import food from other countries because "free trade" agreements compel signatory nations to let foreign produce come into their markets (is this correct?).

Question:

Given these mutually conflicting needs and economic forces, how can we turn things around? These issues are intertwined and extremely complex - quite beyond the capacity of ordinary citizens to figure out viable solutions, or to remake the system. We need, not just experts in particular fields, but social and political leaders who are informed about these issues, concerned, courageous and equipped with the passion to inspire and mobilize Canadians to go from here to there.

But where is that visionary leadership to come from?

Bruce

RickWJanuary 13, 2008 09:41 EST

Lea Z:
"Ministry of Agriculture is actually called Agriculture and Agri-Food..."
Darth says that names matter, and he is right. A Ministry of Agri-Food strongly suggests that it caters to Agri-Business, which is the antithesis of healthy food production.

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