Food security is a political issue

Photo by Rebecca Cuttler.

While I hang out in the garden, doing my fall cleanup and harvesting, there’s monumental change in the air with the federal election coming up on October 19. Across Canada, people are taking action to set the agenda for our country.

Gardening isn’t just a bourgeois lifestyle trend for me. It’s a way to be strongly involved with creating the kind of society I want to see. A society that cultivates innovation, protects its environment and meets the needs for all of its citizens. As our world becomes more urbanized, industrialized and expensive, turning some of our land back to food production can feel like an act of defiance. It may also become a more necessary skillset, given our changing climate.

This election race has brought a lot of talk about safety. We humans want to feel that we are fundamentally secure, that we can go home at night and know that our loved ones live without fear or threat. It’s interesting, therefore, that the campaign has brought relatively little talk of climate change and food security, at least in mainstream media circles. If our agricultural land fails, if we lose access to clean, fresh water, we will all be imperiled.

I’ve been reading with interest the website Eat Think Vote, an initiative of Food Secure Canada that aims to make food security an election issue. I learned a lot from reading their recommendations.

According to Eat Think Vote, “4 million Canadians, including 1.15 million children, are food insecure”.

Without reliable access to nourishing food, it is difficult for anyone to learn, grow and contribute to our economy. Despite this, “Canada remains one of the few industrialized countries without a national school food program”. Eat Think Vote says that our country’s patchwork of programs reaches only a small percentage of hungry students. Food insecurity in the North of Canada is a “massive issue,” with 70% of Nunavut residents facing food insecurity. More than half of Canadian farmers are over the age of 55 and “80% are looking to retire in the next 10 years”. Meanwhile, according to Eat Think Vote, Canada’s agricultural policy continues to focus on export markets and large farms. The next generation of farmers needs help acquiring land and training.

Eat Think Vote has created a petition calling for the creation of a national food policy in Canada.

This summer, our garden faced the most severe drought in memory. It was strange to experience stage 3 watering restrictions in our rainforest environment. I learned how little water our garden needed to survive. Gardening puts us into an intimate dialogue with climate change in a way that nothing else can. I have a feeling that we will see more hot summers in the future, and more stormy, difficult winters. Climate change has the potential to pose a significant threat to our safety and livelihood. Already, the drought in California – the source of much of BC’s food – threatens to make access to fresh, healthy food less affordable. We need a diversified local food system in order to thrive, one that is supported by federal strategies.

In my non-gardening life, I strive to be an aware and involved citizen. I’m not a political junkie, but I care about the issues that affect my community. I’m guilty of sometimes falling into the trap of thinking that everyone in Vancouver eats a healthy organic diet, that no one goes hungry. But that isn’t the case. I live in Strathcona, a neighbourhood where food insecurity, including that of children, is a very real issue. The reasons for this are complex, but fundamentally, a vibrant and healthy society cannot be built when people go hungry.

Food is one of our most basic needs. On election day, I plan to consider include food security when making my voting choice.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and board member of the Environmental Youth Alliance. She blogs about urban food gardening at http://abundantcity.net.

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