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On Food Issues; Vote NDP

Vote NDP if you care about Food.

Food Quality, Food Security.. 

Doesn’t anyone care? 

I can't help but notice that Jack is the only one to have mentioned farming, specifically the disappearing small family farm.  In addressing ways to help young farmers get started, I got the impression he had a notion about this country's food issues.  His party has also brought up environmental issues more than the others, and this is integral to our food chain.  Ok, so Duceppe visited a family farm too this week (eight days later), so vote Bloc second.

For access to good food and a sustainable future, we need to farm locally, and for that, we need available land, good soil, healthy bees, a diversity of seeds, fair prices, and a government that favours local communities and small producers over the industrial system and foreign interests. 

As it is, our dependence on petrol soaked industrial food has resulted in an unsustainable system that has degraded food quality, the environment and farm communities, making it next to impossible for our best farmers to survive.

Altogether, our food system needs attention and no one seems to care, certainly because most voters and politicians are city dwellers, disconnected from the source of their food. Taking the abundance for granted, unaware that everything good is in jeopardy. Not enough people have spoken with a farmer recently, read enough Michael Pollan or picked up Sarah Elton’s all Canadian Locavore I guess, to notice how AFU our food chain is. 

But imagine not being able to choose what you eat!  All GMO, only packaged in China, or by Kraft.  Not ever knowing the difference between something picked by hand, carefully made and tended to by someone you can meet..  Not having access to peak of the season strawberries or corn, not having control over our food supply when it counts.  Maybe then, people would revolt.  But, that’s where we are headed.

While there is a promising mini-wave toward organic and local with farmer’s markets, CSA’s, supported by a blossoming group of patriotic/ethically minded/hedonistic gourmands , and chefs embracing terroir cuisine, small farms are still closing.  Talented, passionate producers are struggling.  Urban development is swallowing up farmland.  Bottom line - Most people still shop at the superstores, addicted to cheap imports.  Look how hard it is to find local garlic for god’s sake.  Garlic grows well here; it’s just that no one can make a living doing it.  Our short growing season, and relatively high labour costs don’t help.  Same for so many other things.  At Les Jardins Sauvages, we do mushrooms and we would have to take a 100% loss to compete with imports when it comes to dried, sometimes even fresh. But it's not the same thing.

More than that, it is the effect of big corporations and mass production dominating our food source landscape that is more troubling, not only diminishing flavour and personality, but making it impossible for the guy next door.  The kind of enterprise you would ideally rather buy from because you would know what he's doing and he would have to answer for it if he's doing something wrong - well, he can't compete.  All the laws and systems are made for big players - the economy over food quality.  Perhaps that explains the government favouring big corp and sterile food..  With their trade policies, economy markers, fears of litigation, the easier the better..  Economies of scale might make sense for some things, but not when it comes to food.

Despite all this, in Quebec, we’re leaps and bounds ahead of most of the country in terms of fostering a modern culinary heritage that speaks of place; we have our ‘terroir’, our celebrity chefs, our cheese, farm fresh vegetables, Montreal melons and maple syrup, foie gras, lamb and venison, alongside the traditional dishes to proudly riff on like tourtiere, ragout de pattes, poutine and so much more.  Every restaurant and boutique trumpets ‘Cuisine or Produits de Terroir’.  There are many extraordinary producers with an army of fans beyond chefs.  Strangely enough, though, most still fight to make ends meet.  In reality, most restaurateurs don’t fully walk the walk, still relying on big suppliers and a lot of industrial meat and imported veg; this is not advertised on their menus.  They would need to charge more and customers aren’t willing to pay more.  The small producers remain marginalized despite all this amazing ‘terroir’ cuisine. Home cooks aren’t worrying about them either, reheating processed food, grilling a Costco steak, seeing 3$/lb pork at the supermarket and thinking this is normal..  

Until it all blows up in our faces..  When gas costs so much that industrial food is no longer so cheap, and there are enough intoxications or food scares to drive people to naturally raised animals, organic veg and food from traceable sources close to home, then everyone will want the local stuff.  But then, there might not be enough farmers with good land, seeds and know-how to provide.

We need to encourage local food producers, and government policy should favour them over big agri-business by forcing the greedy giants to internalize the environmental costs.  Imports should be regulated at least as rigorously as locally made products.  I don’t think free trade is all that good for our food.  We should be paying more for our food, only for better food.  Farmers should be able to live a decent life, they should be valued.  Why should a trained, knowledgeable, hardworking pillar of society make less than a cashier?  It makes no sense.  Really, why is an actor, hockey player, doorman or secretary so much better than a farmer?

I would have liked a Mme.Payé moment to ask the candidates about agriculture/food policy.  Not much is as important as our food; we eat daily; our health and joy, our general well being depends on it.  I don’t believe in ‘the economy’ at all costs.  We need not be dependent on the economy if we can feed ourselves.  We have to think long term.

In fact, we don’t even have to think too hard – just tuning into our taste buds, stomach, heart and common sense after a clear look at the status quo, there is no doubt that big change is necessary.  We can preserve the last of the little guys doing something good and bolster the young innovators with ideas about urban farming and greenhouses.  We should be encouraging the few daring enough to go back to the land while everyone swarms to the city expecting to get fed without a second thought.  We have all it takes to build a solid and tasty Canadian foodshed, but we need the average person and politician to give a shit, or we’ll be sorry. 

I want a government that will make progress more likely.  In the mean time, and most importantly, it is about all of us choosing good food and supporting our local producers, shunning the industrial system, day to day. Even if it means withholding on that latest Ipad or pair of stylish shoes.

I say vote NDP.  Or Bloc.  But more than anything, I want you to vote with your dollar every time you buy food.  Go to the market.  At the market, favour the farmers over the dealers.  If you don’t live close to a market, subscribe to a CSA.  If you don’t know a farmer or producer, make a point of meeting one.  Date one if possible.  It will change you.  Get gardening or at least cooking from scratch.. Hang out with people who do.  Think about your food and where it comes from, and fully appreciate it.  Be willing to pay more for good food that is carefully made in terms of quality, with respect to the environment because it is real food that tastes good!  If you go to the supermarket, read labels, ask questions.  Buy local! Eat with a conscience; choose a restaurant that has a conscience when you eat out.  Revive old traditions and have fun at the table.  It's easy and delicious to embrace slowfood - what is fresh, local, fair and organic (in spirit anyway) is what tastes best, what feels right.  If we all did this, the right people and businesses would thrive, we wouldn’t even need government.  Unfortunately we do.

Vote NDP.

Posted on Monday, April 25, 2011 at 04:11AM by Registered CommenterNancy Hinton | CommentsPost a Comment

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