Food and farming are complicated issues!

Not persuaded that a vote for food and farming is worth it? Or still left wondering about a few things? To help address some common questions and concerns, we’ve provided responses below. Use them as starting points to further your discussions.

If diet-related illnesses – like obesity, type II diabetes, and heart disease – are such big problems, why don’t people just eat healthier?
Some people live in communities where grocery stores and farmers markets are few and far between, but where fast food joints and convenient stores abound. These areas are heavily targeted with advertisements for nutritionally-poor, highly-processed foods. Options for healthy, whole foods are few. These are called food deserts. Low income neighborhoods are often the most vulnerable and its citizens have a tough time of accessing healthy food choices. Dealing with systemic exclusion from a healthy food system is something that strengthens community and makes good food choices easier for all. Why would we not make sure all Ontarians have access to healthy local food as a fundamental goal?

We already spend so much on health care, why should the government spend money on buying local and sustainable food for hospitals?
The health care sector in the province dishes out roughly 115 million meals every year. Less than a quarter of the food served is from Ontario. That is a lot of public tax dollars spent on highly-processed and imported foods. Buying locally would mean Ontario tax dollars were recycled back into the provincial economy rather than sent abroad. This creates jobs locally and strengthens our local food system. Why would we not want to support our local communities to produce food and provide healthier meals to those who need it the most for recovery?

We need more doctors and nurses and shorter wait times. What is this about ‘preventative care’?
An apple a day keeps the doctor away! Eating well decreases a person’s chances of developing chronic diseases like diabetes, stroke, and heart diseases. In general, good nutrition is vital to human health. Eating well is a proactive way to keep people out of hospitals, thus decreasing wait times for beds and doctors and reducing the strain on the health care system. This begins with educating our children about food and empowering them to know their options, make healthy decisions, and fell comfortable preparing foods for themselves – starting at an early age.

Food and agriculture don’t matter, isn’t the Ontario economy based on manufacturing, resources, or IT?
Many economic indicators show that the food, agriculture and beverage sector have taken over from manufacturing and are now the driving force behind the provincial economy. Why are we not treating as such? We already know the health, social, community, education and environmental benefits of supporting this sector, now that it is the most important economic sector, why are we not treating it as such? Does food and agriculture not deserve the same attention and financial support as manufacturing?

Why is local – and sustainable – food so expensive?
Comparing products that appear similar can be misleading especially when global trade is involved. There is so much that we don’t know about products when they are grown so far away from us. By choosing Ontario grown food – whether it is produced or raised in a conventional, sustainable or organic system, ensures that we know the basic standards. We know that Ontario farmers and producers are subject to some of the most rigorous regulations in the world and we know that they produce very safe food. Many Ontarians are willing to spend a little extra to ensure that piece of mind – local, sustainable products are the fastest growing segment of the food marketplace.

Who cares where our food comes from? I want a deal!
A few decades ago, an average household would spend almost 50% of the household income on food. Now that percentage is closer to 11%. Our society values cheap food but is willing to pay a premium for fancy shoes, haircuts, and clothing. Why is the stuff we put in our bodies less valuable than the stuff we wear on our bodies? Buying good food that has been cultivated in a sustainable way in an investment in the health of people, communities, and the planet. If every Ontario household spent an additional $10 every week on local food, that would add an additional $2.4 billion to the Ontario economy – along with increasing our food security and employment rates. Maybe it is worth it to pay a bit more for that snack in your (kid’s) lunch!

Why would I buy Ontario strawberries for $6.99 when I can buy the two for $5 from the US?
They’re just not the same thing! The strawberries in the grocery store have been selected and bred to have characteristics that make them ideal for long-distance shipping, long waits on shelves, and commercial sale. They may be robust, cheap, and uniform looking, but they sure don’t taste the same as the local strawberries – and they’re not doing much for Ontario’s food security. The grocery store’s berries also come from enormous mono-cropping farms that use fewer seed varieties, thus missing out on all the diversity of flavours, shapes, and colours within the species. It is crucial that we preserve this diversity and the ability to cultivate it. And stocking up on Ontario produce in season means a freezer full of goodness through the winter – or maybe a project to eat through the infinite varieties of Ontario apples in storage!

Is farming still important to the province of Ontario? We live in a global world. Why and how important is it?
If the transportation routes into Ontario’s capital were closed, Toronto would run out of food in three days. Likely that won’t happen, but it sure does illustrate our lack of self-sufficiency – or food security, to put it another way. Food security is the ability to grow nutritious and affordable food that is sustainable and accessible to all. Leaving agriculture to the forces of the global market means we forfeit our right to determine food production and distribution. Investing in Ontario’s rich agricultural heritage allows us to cultivate vibrant rural communities, feed busy urban hubs, and produce commodities that can be traded for other delicious foods in the global market.

If local food enterprises can’t make it, why should we bother supporting them?
There is no hard and fast rule about what enterprises are worth supporting and which should be left to their own devices. However, there is a risk associated with viewing food from a “laissez-faire” capitalist perspective: food is unlike any other commodity. More so than even cars and coffee, we need it to survive. Making a decision to invest in good food and farming means owning the means of production to a vital element of human survival.

Kids don’t like vegetables! Are you telling me that if you start putting salad bars into schools, that they are going to eat from them?
Healthy eating habits start at a young age. Making nutritious food fun and delicious is a way to launch a lifetime of healthy food choices. If the same advertising dollars were spent turning broccoli and carrots into tree forts for children’s’ imaginations, processed snacks wouldn’t stand a chance! How many kids know carrots grow in the ground, let alone, have helped to plant and harvest the food they eat? Turn that salad bar into a forest of stories and experiences and the only thing parents will have to contend with are the “dessert stomachs!” Kids love to have the hands on education that comes from learning gardening and cooking. In addition to salad bars, food literacy is an important component of student education.

Isn’t it the responsibility of parents to teach their kids to eat healthy?
Good eating habits can be learned at home, in the community, and at school – the responsibility falls on all of us to ensure that parents have the support they need to make good food – and the education that goes along with it – accessible to all. Even the best of parents need help. School food programs and community food hubs are ways to reinforce good eating habits and to expand on what kids are learning at home.

We’ve already slashed physical education from the curriculum. Do you think there’s space to put in food education?
The price tag of educating our children about healthy eating could very well be less than the cost of setting them up for a lifetime of poor food choices, inabilities to concentrate and learn well, and health complications. The question should be, can we afford not to educate our children about what they put into their bodies? The preventative route may not only be cheaper than the treatment route, it is also empowering to engage kids in the world of food options and implications that surround them daily.

Why be worried about farmland and wildlife habitats? Don’t we have lots in Canada?
Productive agricultural land and fertile soils are precious, finite resources that take centuries to evolve. They go hand in hand with the conservation of sophisticated wildlife ecosystems that provide animal habitat and protect biodiversity. Good stewardship of one strengthens the other. Farmers are our most important factor in this equation. They are the stewards who protect farmland, on farm biodiversity zones, and wildlife habitat. Wildlife ecosystems provide services like water and air purification and act as carbon caches. But Ontario’s prime agricultural and wildlife lands are compromised by urban sprawl and the realities of climate change. Protecting these environments and our farmers is imperative to strengthening our food sovereignty and decreasing our reliance on food from global markets. We need to support our farmers by valuing the goods and environmental services they offer through a willingness to choose and pay for these. A race to the bottom economy that prefers cheap food to good food removes these incentives for farmers to be good stewards of these valuable lands.

Green energy is expensive. Why should we help farmers put in wind, solar, and biogas on their farms and sell it back into the grid?
Farming is energy intensive. Empowering farmers to be proactive about their energy consumption and generation is a win-win situation for them and their communities. These are timely endeavours given the reality of peak oil and the need to untangle our food system’s dependency on fuel. Rising fuel prices are causing food prices to climb at unprecedented rates. Consequently, alternative sources of energy are becoming increasingly viable and desirable. Supporting farmers’ alternative energy investments is a way to ensure that agriculture remains a viable livelihood in Ontario and that food remains accessible to all.

The government already pays farmers millions of dollars in insurance. Why should I want to give them any more money?
Food is an essential public good and government has a responsibility to ensure all of its citizens have access to healthy, affordable food. As such, governments support small, ecological farms that provide the dual service of producing both food and environmental services, which are crucial to healthy lifestyles. They also support other viable farms which contribute to our food security, employment, and foreign trade. These help to secure the quality of life we enjoy across the country.

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