Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Food Systems’

Catching seafood up with the local and sustainable food movement

Justin Cantafio_Blog Author_En Susanna Fuller_Blog Author_ENGuest post by Justin Cantafio, Sustainable Fisheries Campaigner and Susanna Fuller, Marine Conservation Coordinator at Ecology Action Centre.

Consumer preferences and buying habits can be instrumental in sharping food systems. Over the past two decades, two seemingly deviating consumer trends have taken hold. On one hand, our growing on-demand society seeks convenient and easily identifiable foods, with discerning consumers looking to third-party certifications and eco-labels to inform them on health and sustainability claims. On the other hand, consumers are increasingly turning to food to slow down and reconnect to family and friends, community, and food producers.

Luckily, the latter trend of whole foods direct from producer has begun to inform the desire for convenient and quick food. Gradually, trends that start off in local chalkboard menu restaurants and farmers markets have been finding their way into institutions and supermarkets. And while an erosion of values often occurs in the globalized commodity marketplace of big box stores, broadline food service providers, and restaurant chains, the result of both trends is that consumers are increasingly scrutinizing where their food came from, who produced it, and how it was produced.

Two young fishers working a weir—an ancient low-impact fishing method—on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

Two young fishers working a weir—an ancient low-impact fishing method—on the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia.

From the silver platter to the hospital dinner tray, local and sustainable foods are growing in popularity. Yet while universities and elementary school cafeterias are proclaiming their menus replete with local poultry or organic salad greens, more often than not, outside of catch of the day labels – a fish is still a fish— and a wild protein luxury we often take for granted.


Three Thresholds from Worse to Better

Hal Hamilton_Blog Author_EN


Someone told me the other day that everything is getting better and better, worse and worse, faster and faster. There’s no such thing as “business as usual” anymore. Even the fast food companies are incorporating sustainability goals into their businesses. Local and organic are growing fast. Consumer research shows that concern about sustainable production of food influences shoppers more in Brazil and China than in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.


Better food is available in the niches and in the mainstream, but soil and fertilizer is still killing off the marine life where rivers meet seas all around the world. Small farmers have to become much more productive or exit for the cities. Aquifers are disappearing under some of the most fertile agricultural regions in the world.

We do-gooders try and sort out the heroes and villains in this story, but the actors don’t divide out that way. On the small farm where I live, we cool vegetables with air conditioners stuck in the walls of wooden coolers in the barn. Even though horses till the fields, the carbon footprint of the vegetables is probably pretty high because of the air conditioners, and because customers drive cars to the farm on pick-up days.

I want grass-fed beef to be MUCH better for the world than feedlot beef, but the science is mixed up.




National Food Policy and the Future of Food

Diana Bronson_Blog Author_EN


I write this blog on a plane having just watched Michael Moore’s Where to Invade Next. The film ends as Moore reminisces about the Berlin Wall coming down in 1989, when people simply took hammers and chisels to the concrete structure that had outlived its usefulness to anyone. I believe the food system for the next generation of Canadians will be as different from today’s as the Germany of Chancellor Merkel is different from the Germany she grew up in.

Twenty years ago, on November 9, 1989, jubilant crowds celebrated the opening of border crossings along the Berlin Wall. To find out more about the Berlin Wall, please visit Copyright: Press and Information Office of the Federal Government of Germany. (PRNewsFoto/German Embassy Washington, DC)

Just as East Germans no longer believed the Soviet lie, consumers, particularly younger consumers, no longer trust our food system. There are many signs that the future of food will be more local, diversified, decentralized, sustainable, organic. In fact, the local system is already thriving on the margins of the dominant system, despite a policy environment that has been geared for decades to industrial production where success is measured by the growth of exports. Government policy has been increasingly out of sync with the way more and more people are looking at food: they are concerned about the health impacts of the overuse of antibiotics and pesticides; they are frightened by the collapse of entire species (bees, monarchs, tuna); and the risks involved in extreme forms of genetic modification (synthetic biology, GM fish); they mistrust the products of industrial and factory farming and they are concerned about the rights of workers and farmers and fishers to make decent livelihoods while growing the food we need to survive. When given the option, as we saw recently in the French’s Ketchup controversy, they are fiercely local.



Eating Responsibly: A Daily Challenge for Tomorrow!

Florence_Blog Author_EN

Guest blog by Florence Lefebvre St-Arnaud, Owner, Campanipol Family Farm 

Food: a central theme of contemporary life and a priority issue for agricultural producers. The food system appears to be rediscovering the importance of local products, the quality and traceability of products, and the family farm. However, the system seems to be at a crossroads.

As a member of a family farm that has been a certified organic producer for nearly 30 years, it goes without saying that I would like our food system to be more focused on innovation and our rich array of local products. Above all, I hope that all the initiatives taken by the generations that have come before will continue to evolve and help change society’s overall vision of farming and food. Whether by carrying out collective marketing initiatives, sustaining small farms specialized in niche productions, or promoting and providing information about urban agriculture and self-sufficiency, I continue to believe that we should strive to have multiple options, as a community, to allow us to eat responsibly.



Reading the Future in a Glass of Milk

Guest blog by Isabelle Mailhot-Leduc, Sustainable Food System Coordinator, Concordia University

Isabelle blog author_ENHalf listening to the radio as I prepared my dinner, I was suddenly struck by the words of the reporter and turned up the volume. The radio program was talking about a demonstration that had taken place earlier that day in front of a large milk-processing plant in Montreal. Some 50 milk producers had gathered there to denounce the use of diafiltered milk from the United States in the industrial production of dairy products. Diafiltered milk is a product that has been filtered several times in order to obtain a very high protein liquid. It is also available in powder form. Canadian customs authorities consider diafiltered milk an ingredient, making the product exempt from tariffs on milk. Major dairy processors are delighted with this situation, as diafiltered milk allows them to save money. Not only is this milk competitively priced, but given its high protein content, it is also more efficient than Quebec milk for the industrial production of yoghurt and cheese. My thoughts were immediately drawn to the concept of a more “efficient” milk.



Technology takes us back to the future of fish

eric enno tamm_This fish_ENGuest blog by Eric Enno Tamm, General Manager, This Fish

The fishing industry is our most ancient food system. It’s really the last vestige of our hunter-gather society, predating human civilization (and agriculture) by hundreds of thousands of years. Wild-capture fisheries are our greatest undomesticated protein source – the original paleo-diet. The technology and industrial scale of fishing has certainly changed over centuries, but the pursuit of fish on the untamed seas is an age-old story.

So, what is the future of this ancient pursuit? The revolution in information technology and changing consumer attitudes and behaviours presents an opportunity to reverse many of the excesses of industry-scale fisheries in the last half century. The problems have become all too apparent.


Consumers, businesses, NGOs and governments are demanding more transparency and accountability in supply chains to prevent illegal fishing, seafood fraud and human rights abuses. Oceana campaigners have DNA-tested 1,200 seafood samples in the U.S. showing that 30 percent of some species were mislabeled. Recent investigative reports have uncovered shocking stories of slavery at sea in Southeast Asian fisheries. And scholars have estimated that between 20% – 32% of wild-caught seafood imported into the U.S. is illegally harvested.  (more…)

The Future of Food: From the Personal to the Global


Hand with wheat grains

Ruth Richardson_ENGuest blog by Ruth Richardson, Executive Director of the Global Alliance for the Future of Food

Food touches us at a very personal level: it binds us as families, it brings communities together, and it nourishes us. Food is also a commodity, with its global production and trade cutting across some of the most pressing issues we currently face as a species — climate change, poverty, public health, displacement. Our food and agriculture systems are amazingly resilient and diverse. And yet they are also fractured and too often not sustainable – increasingly, food production is depleting our natural resources, good and nutritious food is not available to all, and our global markets take away from, instead of build, our local economies.

At the Global Alliance for the Future of Food we have come together to address these critical issues. As a strategic alliance of foundations, we aim to leverage our resources and develop frameworks for change that enable us collectively to accelerate the transition of food systems from those marked by hunger, pollution, water scarcity and declining food crops towards those that are more sustainable, secure and equitable.

Water and Sanitation

To get there, we must address the economics of food and advocate for fair and transparent food accounting. Through support to initiatives like Food Tank and TEEBAgriFood, we aim to make transparent the economic distortions in food systems by developing frameworks that value both the positive (carbon sequestration, pollination services, health) and negative  (CO2 emissions, diabetes, farmworker exposure to toxins, ocean acidification) “external” costs of food production, distribution, and consumption across global systems. As HRH, The Prince of Wales said in his well-known Future of Food speech, what we need “is something very simple … to include in the bottom line the true costs of food production … it has never been needed more.” 


Future Food: Conserving diversity for climate resilience

Guest post by Jane Rabinowicz, Director of the Bauta Family Initiative on Canadian Seed Security at USC Canada and Bob Wildfong,  Executive Director of Seeds of Diversity Canada

Bob Wildfong_EN Jane Rabinowisz_ENThe future of food will be dictated by climate and weather patterns that will be different than any farmers have yet experienced, and which are now unpreventable. Climate change will affect different geographical regions in different ways, but the common factor is that the weather will not just be warmer; it will be more variable and unpredictable.

Everyone has noticed that summer storms seem more frequent, more violent, and harder to forecast. Farmers are seeing greater variation in the first and last frost dates that dictate the length of the growing season. Unexpected droughts and floods are affecting food prices. These are not just warning signs; they are very real challenges that threaten an agriculture system built on an industrial assumption of predictable conditions.

Most of the world’s deserts are in two bands on either side of the equator where atmospheric currents draw water from the ground. A warming earth means stronger air currents, making deserts bigger, and wiping out farmland. Massive losses of arable land and water sources could force enormous migrations from subtropical countries, making current and previous refugee crises look like mere rehearsals for the calamities to come.



In North America we will probably see the deserts of the southern U.S. encroach into the agricultural heartland, and permanent drought conditions in adjacent areas such as California. Higher summertime temperatures will reduce wheat production in the northern U.S. and Canada by as much as 10%. Although average temperatures will be warmer, we will not necessarily reap benefits from longer growing seasons, because the fluctuations of highs and lows will happen faster.


Back to the future: re-balancing our food systems 

Guest blog by Andrew Heintzman, CEO and co-founder of InvestEco.

Andrew H_Investeco_EN copyThe last half of the 20th century saw dramatic changes in the North American food system. These included in general a move towards large-scale farming using significant chemical intervention, mass-manufacturing of most food products, loss of genetic diversity in crops, and the steady increase in highly-processed foods. And while these changes tended to increase the efficiency of our food production — and drive down the cost of calories — they also came often at the expense of human health, ecological balance, animal welfare, soil quality, rural employment and other social and environmental goods.

I think the next generation will see the pendulum swing back the other way, and bring back some balance to a food system that has moved too far and too quickly in one direction.


In some respects this counter-trend will feature a return to practices that were more common in earlier generations. These will include things like: more small-scale manufacturing of specialty food products; more pasture-raised foods grown using heritage farming techniques; opportunities for smaller farmers to produce higher value crops; greater emphasis on the ecological balance in farming operations; less reliance on chemicals in the farming process; more genetic diversity in our crops.



Future Food



Last summer my kids and I read Farmer Boy, the classic Laura Ingalls Wilder novel about a boy growing up on a homestead in New York. It was striking what a central role food played in Almonzo’s life, and how varied and abundant his family’s diet was – almost as striking as the varied and ever-present work to be done on the farm. The Sunday dinner table groaned with fresh bread, thick-crusted chicken pie, baked beans, ‘quivering slices’ of fat pork, dark-red beet pickles, pumpkin pie and apple pie with cheese.

little houseMy other summer read, the decidedly less bucolic Orenda by Joseph Boyden, reached further back into history, painting a portrait of the early, frequently bloody, contact between the Haudenosanee, Huron Wendats and French Jesuits in what is now central Ontario. Here too, food was very present – this time with descriptions of the three sisters, caribou, fish and berries. And while there were extravagant feasts, there was also famine, drought and crop blight.

Meanwhile, my reading also fast forwarded to newsflashes that Soylent – the beige beverage which claims to contain all the nutrients the body needs – had begun shipping to Canada. In the fall, the International Agency for Research on Cancer classified processed meat as a definite cause of cancer. A University of Guelph study predicted that the average Canadian would spend 345$ more on groceries in 2016. Climate change, with all of its food-related causes, crept closer to the two degrees no one wants – but the issue finally received global attention in Paris and serious treatment in Ottawa. And the spectre of Syrian children starving in besieged villages haunted me.


All this made me question what will food in the future look like? Where are we going, where do we want to be going – and what can we do to change course?