June 1, 2017

Guest Commentary – Canada’s Challenge: Ending Chronic Food Insecurity in the Far North

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs is pleased to present the 2017 Next Generation Delegates blog series. This year’s Delegation was comprised of 20 outstanding students from universities across the United States and around the world studying agriculture, food, and related disciplines. We were thrilled to feature these emerging leaders at the Global Food Security Symposium 2017, and look forward to sharing the exciting work of this extraordinary group.


By Emma Gibson, BPAPM candidate, Public Affairs and Policy Management, Carleton University, and 2017 Next Generation Delegate

This March in Washington, DC, a cab driver said he heard on the radio that in Canada, we don’t lock our houses—we can trust each other enough to leave the front door unlocked. I laughed politely—Canada’s reputation is on quite a high, and pointing out that Canada isn’t perfect seems to take many Americans by surprise these days.

One area where Canada could stand to improve its public policy is on food. In Nunavut, one of our northernmost territories, 70 percent of children live in food-insecure households. At a time when we struggle to prioritize myriad social ills on the basis of worthiness and preventative cost-savings in other areas, food is a no-brainer. What we eat is the basis of everything, especially our health, but also our ability to take active part in society. Food is not only our energy for the day, it’s also crucial to the practice of any culture, and a fundamentally social experience.

Yet even in Canada—a country so peaceful and trusting that some people (apparently) don’t lock their front door—there isn’t always enough to eat. And it isn’t only the question of enough. Does the food have the right balance of nutrients, and meet cultural and social needs? Do we have time to prepare it?  

Canada’s self-image, and the image it has historically projected to the world, is one of agricultural bounty. Wide-open prairies burst with productivity alongside thriving orchards and spacious ranches.

Like most marketing campaigns, this picture is the flattering half of the story. Canadian agriculture is certainly productive, and the sector is an important one, even in a largely resource-dependent economy. Yet Canadians, for their part, have not always been realistic about what a food-secure Canada would require.

Global food security requires national food security, which in turn requires regional food security. In addition, food security at any jurisdictional level requires food security across income levels and communities, a measure on which even Canada’s most cosmopolitan cities are sorely lacking.

Across the country, indigenous people are the least food-secure of all of us. In smaller communities, indigenous Canadians experience a level of food insecurity that is far beyond what is experienced in non-indigenous communities in the same rural or isolated context. Canada’s Territories (the Yukon, Northwest Territories, and Nunavut) stand out as regions with large indigenous populations who are excluded from the overarching food security success story, as do the northernmost reaches of various provinces, notably the Nunavik region of Quebec, and the Nunatsiavut region of Labrador. High food prices shock tourists and visitors, and pictures of the prices on grocery store shelves are a common souvenir of a trip to the North.

Even in cities and towns, indigenous people appear to be largely shut out of the food-security benefits of urban and suburban life. If you're an indigenous woman, you have children, you live in a crowded home, or you have weakened extended family ties, you’re even more likely to experience food insecurity.

In food policy, like all other public policy, there are many ways to fail. A program can be too little, or too late, to achieve the objectives set out for it. It can be too complicated to put into practice, or perhaps too expensive. More often, however, a program or policy fails because it doesn't just identify the problem correctly.

How we identify problems in the field of food security is especially prone to under- or over-reaction. Is the problem producers? Businesses? The people eating the food? Is it the way the government regulates or supports access to food? All of these questions have been asked, at one time or another, of food security in Canada. Yet, the people asking them are asking them for a reason—because they are largely outside of the regions, socioeconomic circumstances, and indigenous communities where food insecurity is the norm. When we talk about the food on the kitchen table, we need to talk about the people at the policy table. Who’s here? Who isn’t? Who wasn’t even invited?

Too often, too few of those affected by policy changes are brought in as part of the decision making process. This is especially true for indigenous and northern communities, which often experience difficulty accessing federal political systems.

To include more Canadians in policymaking, the Government of Canada must work not only to have a broader range of policy actors at the table, but it must be willing to consider the various points of view that different people and organizations bring to the process.

People are what makes policies work, and as a result food secure communities can’t be built from the outside. If we are getting ready to change something, we need communities experiencing food insecurity to be involved. Canada certainly isn’t the door-unlocked utopia of my cab driver’s imagination, but a more inclusive political process could bring us one step closer.

Read previous blogs by the 2017 Next Generation Delegates:

 

 

About

The Global Food and Agriculture Program aims to inform the development of US policy on global agricultural development and food security by raising awareness and providing resources, information, and policy analysis to the US Administration, Congress, and interested experts and organizations.

The Global Food and Agriculture Program is housed within the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, an independent, nonpartisan organization that provides insight – and influences the public discourse – on critical global issues. The Council on Global Affairs convenes leading global voices and conducts independent research to bring clarity and offer solutions to challenges and opportunities across the globe. The Council is committed to engaging the public and raising global awareness of issues that transcend borders and transform how people, business, and governments engage the world.

Support for the Global Food and Agriculture Program is generously provided by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

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