You may have heard that Canada released a food policy last week. Which is great but it seems to be light on specifics and really just a bunch of food-related budget items grouped together and called a policy.
There were a few things in the policy that I was pleased to see: the government’s “intention” to work with the provinces and territories to develop a national school food program. This is long overdue and much needed. A universal school food program would ensure that children had the nutrition that they need to learn and grow (at least during the school day) and would help alleviate some of the burden on parents who may not have sufficient income or resources to ensure their children have healthy breakfasts and lunches. Unfortunately, I don’t see any money marked for this item and as we head into an election, forgive me if I sound cynical in my “I’ll believe it when I see it” attitude. I’m also concerned about who will be involved in developing such a program as we don’t want to fall into the trap of promoting brands or providing unappealing, less than nutritious meals – like we often hear about from our neighbours in the States.
I was happy to see money going toward promoting locally grown and produced foods as well as toward preventing food fraud. However, despite the budget lines devoted to these items sounding huge to me as a dietitian who works with a budget that’s a fraction of these amounts, in the big picture of the government, it’s not very much money at all. They’ve marked $25 million for a buy local produce campaign and $24.4 million to combat food fraud. Contrast this with the $12 million they gave to Loblaw to retrofit their fridges a few months ago.
The part that I’m most disappointed by is the first item mentioned in the policy introduction and that’s their so-called efforts to reduce food insecurity. The example they give is of providing a grant to a food bank so that they can buy more freezers. Are. You. Kidding. Me. Food insecurity is something that I would have loved to have seen this policy address more fulsomely. Unfortunately, they really missed the mark on this important issue. Yes, in some communities and some circumstances, access to sufficient nutritious food is absolutely an issue. However, in the vast majority of cases of Canadians who are experiencing food insecurity the root cause is insufficient income. There are people in every community across the country who cannot afford enough nutritious food for themselves and their families. Continuing to support the food charity model (i.e. food banks) is not the answer. Give the people of Canada a basic income. Empower people to be able to afford to make their own food decisions. Food banks provide an essential emergency service but they were never intended to be permanent solutions to hunger and poverty. Providing more money for food banks only further entrenches them in our food system and society and allows the government to get off easy without making any meaningful effort to end food insecurity.