by Valerie Ward, eater and advocate
Why should Ontario eaters vote on food and farming in next month’s provincial election? The answer is simple: because every time we eat, we’re making choices that deeply affect our lives, from the health of our families, to the vibrancy of our communities, to the safety of the air we breathe and the water we drink.
I didn’t always feel this way. Like a lot of people who grow up in cities, for many years my experience of food was limited to the bland produce and processed convenience foods sold in supermarkets. I didn’t give much thought to what was actually in my food, or how it was made, as long I could get it with a minimum of fuss.
It wasn’t until about 10 years ago that family health problems prompted me to pay more attention. My husband and I began reading product labels and preparing more meals from scratch to avoid the fat, sodium and sugar that processed foods often contain. In 2008, we started buying food from Wendy’s Country Market, an award-winning, farmer-owned store near Kingstonthat sells fresh, chemical-free foods from suppliers within a 100-mile radius. Wendy’s food was a revelation: full of flavour, colour and texture, and produced sustainably by local farmers and entrepreneurs. Eager to learn more, I enrolled in a certificate program from St. Lawrence College on sustainable local food.
What I’ve learned is that our current food system – that is, the way we grow, produce and distribute food — isn’t working. In Ontario, a once-thriving food and farming sector continues to shrink, compromising our ability to feed ourselves. Every year, more farmers lose money and primary food processors close down. We import more food than we export and transport it over long distances, boosting greenhouse gases in the process. And despite a seeming abundance of food, more Ontarians are using food banks, while the health prob
lems associated with unhealthy eating, such as obesity and type 2 diabetes, have skyrocketed.
Governments have started to address some of the problems, but we need a more compre
hensive plan if we hope to secure the future of Ontario farming, protect natural resources, and promote knowledge about and access to healthy food.
When most of us think of election issues, we think of the economy, health care, education, and the environment, not food and farming. But the irony is that the way we produce and eat food is closely tied to all of those priorities.
As we head towards October 6, we owe it to ourselves, our families, and our communities to find out w
here provincial candidates stand on food and farming. And to let them know where we stand. Food connects us all – not just as eaters, but as citizens, too.
Valerie Ward is an Ottawa writer and local food advocate.