Posts Tagged ‘Sustainable Food Systems’

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?


Transforming the Table: What I learned from 22 Interviews with Leaders of the Canadian Food System


Sohpie Silkes_blog authorSeveral years ago, a group of Canadian organizations gathered to discuss one of their shared funding priorities: sustainable food systems. Hailing from across the country, this informal funders’ group began to contemplate how best to come together to share learnings and in some cases, support of strategic partnerships to deepen their impact.

Earlier this summer, the group commissioned a high level landscape assessment of the Canadian food system to help inform its work. As a Social Innovation Fellow in Sustainable Food Systems at the J.W. McConnell Family Foundation, I had the unique opportunity to complete interviews in support of this assessment, which Eco-Ethonomics is conducting.



My questions included the following: When you think about the Canadian food system, what catches your attention? What are the key levers for change? How can we most effectively collaborate across sectors and regions to make lasting change?


I spoke with 22 leaders, actors and influencers who represent a spectrum of expertise within our national food system, from production, processing, distribution, and industry work, to the academic, non-profit, private, and government sectors. Some compelling themes emerged.


The Price of Good Food – an Acadian Tale



My $10.25 meal

It’s Saturday morning and the Dieppe farmers’ market on the outskirts of Moncton is buzzing. Farm stalls offer a local bounty: vegetables galore, plump strawberries and blueberry jam, meats and cheese, wines and apple cider. At the food court, I get a vegetable sandwich ($5), and my son, a small box of dumplings ($5). We share a strawberry smoothie ($5.50) and get two muffins ($5). For $10.25 each, we’ve had a delicious locally-prepared meal, made largely with local ingredients.


Dieppe Farmer’s Market, Dieppe, New Brunswick


Painting the future: Opportunities for more healthy, local and sustainable food

Beth-2014-1Three years ago, a small group of senior staff from three foundations gathered to talk about our common efforts to support local and sustainable food development: helping farmers access markets, improving supply chains, protecting prime farmland, raising public awareness and informing public policy. What was missing, we mused, was the background to all this work that would help us and others understand the context for all these individual efforts: imports, exports, pollution, waste, taxes, and subsidies.

So we decided to jointly commission a piece of research that would paint this backdrop, engaging a team with a strong diversity of skills and experience, headed up by Atif Kubursi of Econometrics. The Econometrics team’s extensive experience in economic and transportation modelling would be complimented by Harry Cumming’s knowledge of rural dynamics and Rod MacRae’s food policy expertise. There was an on-going conversation between researchers and foundation staff as the work unfolded.

Unlike most artists painting a landscape, the researchers didn’t know what their painting would look like once completed. This made it very difficult to make a communications plan for the work, but kept the process exciting! The research set out to track major economic and environmental impacts of the food system in southern Ontario (a region where all three foundations were working). It found that local food impacts are largely positive — the food economy creates jobs and generates tax revenues.


Trust and Traceability

The other day my husband dashed off an email to a dozen friends and neighbours titled ‘meat, eggs and parsnips’. Our farmer friend Kathleen was coming to town and had offered to deliver some food. He included Kathleen’s answers to his questions about how the food was produced:

we do nothing to the cattle; they are born and stay with the herd their entire life (until their one bad day). The cattle have only pasture and hay, nothing else (no finishing on grain). The chickens are truly free-range and are fed certified organic grains. They also have happy days with no other inputs from us (well I do pat them and our son hugs them). The vegetables are from organic seed if we can source it, and we only fertilize with manure from our animals. No herbicides, no pesticides, just lots of mulch and weeding.’