Food Politics

The ways in which the food system is failing us are numerous. It is failing some in quantity, while failing others in quality. The only members of the food system that are not being exploited are the corporate food producers, and that is because they are the exploiters in this equation. Just like the schoolyard that we are all familiar with, there are two groups on the food system playground; the bullied and the bullies. In comparison to the schoolyard example, the bullies are in the minority, consisting here of transnational corporations and other large organizations with one goal in mind: profit maximization.
In the majority are the bullied, consisting of not only the lowly consumers such as you and I, but also small farms and even government organizations. While the present food system has many flaws that have led to this toxic playground relationship, there are solutions. We hope to clearly demonstrate where the food system is today, how this present food system is failing us, connections to the Antony and Samuelson text, and lastly solutions. The term “food politics” refers to the political aspects of production, control, regulation, inspection, and distribution of food.
Since biblical times, the government has played a dominant role in the production and control of food. The book of Genesis states: “the Egyptian pharaoh took 20 percent of all food production from his farmers as tax” (47:24). This demonstrates the regulatory role that the government has had in food production since the beginning of civilization. The key parties in food politics are consumers, farmers, food safety and quality regulators, retailers and the state. Today, customers demand affordable food, thus placing increased pressure on producers to mediate expenditures.

There is enough food to feed the world, and there has been for many decades. In 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization calculated that there is enough food to feed the world 1. 5x over (Holt-Gimenez and Patel 2009). While there is adequate food to end world hunger, the problem continues due to greed and unequal power distribution. International policies by the World Health Organization (WHO) have attempted to put an end to world hunger, but because the outcomes of these policies do not benefit the bottom lines of he state and of corporations, they are not supported (Paarlberg 2011). In our own backyard, the Canadian government has removed restrictions surrounding property ownership regulations, thus facilitating the redistribution of Canadian farmland. As far back as 1969, there were recommendations from the federal government to reduce the number of Canadian farmers by 50 to 65 percent, encouraging the movement toward a factory-farming model (Paarlberg, 2011). Factory farming is a model recognized for its increased efficiency and output in farming. This is when the quality of food diminishes.
Low quality food is something every consumer encounters on a daily basis, however the ability to make decisions surrounding food quality choices is greatly dependent on economic standing. Despite the want to purchase high quality food, this may not be financially feasible. Food imported and exported to Canada is inspected and regulated by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, which is “internationally recognized for its standards and principles” (CFIA). There are two major issues facing the CFIA. Firstly, their standards and principals are comparable to those of the United States, the most obese nation on earth and not a worthy role model.
Secondly, as of August 2011, meat inspection methods have moved to a two-tier system due to budget cuts. The CFIA cannot afford to regulate meat nationwide and as such have relegated provincial sales and slaughter to that specific level of government and with it the ability to enforce consistent countrywide standards. With common origins in the capitalist system the agro-food sector is arguably one of the most globalized in the various spheres of economic activity. Corporations have already been identified as one of the largest players in the food system, with the majority of these businesses being Agri-Transnational Corporations (TNCs).
This is following two decades of economic liberalization, allowing Agri-TNCs to develop enormously in size, power and influence. Bayer, Monsanto and DuPont are a few of the better-known agri-transnational corporations, the key players in this globalization and domination game (ETC Group 2008). In total, there are six large agro chemical manufacturers that “control nearly 75% of the global pesticide market, [and] are also seed industry giants. ” thus creating an oligopoly (ETC Group 2008). A small collection of large companies produces the majority of goods, giving consumers the ability to choose the best of the worst.
This allows the corporations belonging to the oligopoly to collaborate on price, both at a consumer and employee level, protecting their profit margins by continually oppressing the consumers and workers into either accepting the offered price, or receiving nothing. Farmers are often bound by lengthy contracts to buy farm inputs from, and sell a specified crop, to the same corporation. This translates into farmers being held at ransom at every step of production. They are exceedingly dependent on a “corporate package” while denying communities control over their own food and future.
The package consists of high-cost inputs including synthetic fertilizers, chemical pesticides and unsustainable genetically modified seeds that do not germinate as easily, ensuring the continuous cycle of dependency. The push towards industrial, high-input agriculture is driving farmers into debt. They must take out loans in order to afford modified seeds, and more effective fertilizers and pesticides. The vast majority of food related TNCs share the same quality of holding global investments in the food industry and controlling much of how food is grown, processed, distributed and purchased.
The aforementioned oligopoly creates a relationship of dependence. Both the consumers and employees are dependent on these TNCs on a daily basis. Because TNCs dominate the industry in these countries, and government regulation is lacking, the reserve army of labour is highly exploitable. If these workers are fired from the TNCs, there are few other employers with which to seek work. From a consumer perspective, most all of the products available in retail outlets are produced by these TNCs, with little choice of products from other companies. This market domination combined with the ollaboration between TNCs for price setting in a given market creates the perfect storm for these parties to be marginalized. As illustrated in Figure 1, ten companies own the majority of food products that we consume, but due to the fact that they have many subsidiaries – each with different branding- consumers have a false sense of choice. Industrial food and farming practices not only deny local communities and indigenous people control over their own water, forests, minerals, biodiversity, and land, but also devalues their local wisdom and knowledge of farming practices.
This industrialization clearly abuses both the area around local citizens as well as the citizens themselves. While these parties, the majority of the population, are disadvantaged as our food system industrializes, corporations and governments benefit by way of increased profits and domination. Implications of this change are at the expense of depriving peasants and small food producers around the world of their basic human rights while limiting their existing livelihood, culture, health, and self-determination. A growing trend in recent years has been agro fuel production.
We are seeing a partnership of multinationals such as BP global for the conversion of land to cash crop rather than subsistence production. Revisited again under the contract-growing model, Monsanto has created a situation in which farmers cannot produce food for sustenance, but rather they must employ monocropping. This increases dependency on purchased inputs and on foreign markets that communities have no say in, and therefore threatening local subsistence and food security. “Agro fuels, also referred to as biofuels, are fuels derived from food crops such as corn, soya, canola, sugar cane, and oil. (Martini and Shiva 2008). Massive deforestation in Brazil due to monocropping for agro fuels has caused the displacement of indigenous peoples and devastating effects on the climate. “The FAO argues [that] agro fuels account for 10% of food price rise, while the IMF and IFPRI claim 30%, and the World Bank estimated a contribution of between 65% and 75%. ” (Chakraborrty and Phillips 2008). This information is essential when evaluating the impact that agro fuels have in Brazil and in many other countries and communities.
In Ending Hunger in Our Lifetime, food security is defined as “access by all people at all times to enough food for an active healthy life” (Runge, Senauer, Pardey, and Rosegrant 2003:15). The World Health Organization (WHO) expands on this concept and presents the three pillars of food security: (1) Availability – having a consistent supply and sufficient quantity of food, (2) Accessibility – having the resources to ensure a nutritious diet, and (3) Food Use – appropriate use centered around having rudimentary knowledge of nutrition (Schanbacher 2010:12).
When discussing food politics, a central issue is the imminent threat to food security. Food insecurity is encouraged by many potential risk factors including, but not limited to, globalization, population growth, trade policies, food aid, a loss of agricultural productivity, and the genetic modification of food. Thomas Malthus, an 18th century economist and author of “On the Principle of Population” wrote that “food is necessary to the existence of man [and] that the passion between the sexes is necessary and will [never cease]. ” (Malthus 1798).
He then suggested that while population will continue to grow in a geometrical ratio (1,2,4,8, etc…), that land subsistence only grows in an arithmetic sequence (1,3,5,7, etc…) and is therefore unable to support the population, thus posing a threat to food security. The powerful forces within the food system oppose this Malthusian theory with the argument that the rate of population growth is slowing, which overall is true, but population growth continues to soar in the poorest countries; the countries where food insecurity is the biggest concern.
Figure 2: Population Growth 1990-2100 PopulationIncrease (%) 1990202521001990-2100 Developing Countries4. 087. 0710. 20150 Developed Countries1. 211. 401. 5024 World5. 308. 4711. 70121 Source: United Nations 1993. Doha, Qatar. It aimed to promote trade liberalization as a means of rendering developing countries less vulnerable to food insecurity. The reduction of international trade protections and tariffs after the 1994 Uruguay Round led to the rapid transfer of products throughout the world, but not at an equal rate or proportion.
When speaking on these imbalances, the Doha Declaration stated: We agree that special and differential treatment for developing countries shall be an integral part of all elements of the negotiations and shall be embodied in the schedules of concessions and commitments and as appropriate in the rules and disciplines to be negotiated, so as to be operationally effective and to enable developing countries to effectively take account of their development needs, including food security and rural development (WTO 2001).
These imbalances were prevalent after the 2008 economic crisis as more developed, and thus powerful, countries were able to protect themselves from loss of profit through restrictive trade policies. By limiting imports, which tend to come from developing nations, developed countries were able to mitigate damages. Take for example the differing trends in Asia and Africa present in Figure 3; In Asia, rates of undernourishment were stable post 2008, while they rose significantly in Africa (FAO 2011).
As defined by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA), food aid is “ a response to address the dietary and nutritional needs of [vulnerable] populations, [to help] and enhance [their] livelihoods and become self-reliant, all essential for sustainable development. ” (CIDA n. d. ). It is important to establish that food aid is not the answer to food security and that there are many biases that exist within its system. Amongst others, food aid has been criticized for being donor directed, promoting domestic interests, being driven by exporters, and that development is not the primary goal.
This criticism has led some to refer to food aid as “food dumping” as the inexpensive food being offered to poorer nations at highly subsidized prices undercuts the local farmers who cannot compete with these prices. They are then driven out of their jobs, which further slants the market in favour of large producers such as those from the US and Europe (Runge, Senauer, Pardey and Rosegrant 2003:125). The USA currently provides approximately 60% of all international food aid and its primary recipients are Peru, Haiti, India, Indonesia, Vietnam, Jordan, Egypt and the Philippines.
Given their massive “donations”, many American agricultural lobby groups hoped food aid would lure recipients into dependence, and that when taken away, the beneficiaries would be forced to become paying customers. In an attempt to avoid entering into the coercive relationship that is food aid, some countries have found alternative strategies to deal with food shortages. One method is an alteration of diet from eating fewer meals each day to consuming less desirable “famine foods” and selling non-essential assets in order to purchase food (Paarlberg 2010:72).
In Food Aid: A cause, or symptom, of development failure, or an instrument for success? Srinivasan asserts that food aid “blunts incentives for domestic food production and hence increases the probability of long-term dependency on donors; or that by alleviating food shortages, it enables the regime in power to postpone, if not abandon, politically costly economic reforms. ” (1993). In line with this assertion comes the proposition to replace traditional food aid with a one-time distribution of farming equipment, livestock, and money in a bid to return people to their previously productive lifestyles.
One of the ways in which donors hold power over recipient countries is through Structural Adjustment Programmes (SAPs), promoted by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). SAPs are imposed under the guise of assisting countries in bringing their “national macroeconomic conditions to a place where [they] can benefit from regional and international trade agreements. ” (Schanbacher 2010:14). A SAP will require countries to limit their social safety nets and to enter basic necessities such as food, water and land into the private sector.
These prescriptions require countries to reduce social safety nets and introduce survival necessities like food, water and land to the commodity market in order to receive the loans they need (Samuelson and Antony 2012:246). These specifications have led to increasing food insecurity, a lack of social protections (namely health care and education) and a widening of class inequality. One manifestation of a lack of food security in a given society may take the form of riots.
Food riots are caused by a jump in food prices, which results from crop failure, ineffective storage methods and hoarding (Lang and Heasman 2004:12). In a desperate attempt to obtain nutrients, the public may become desperate and frustrated enough to attack shops, farms and government buildings. In a recent Globe and Mail article entitled Food riots: What creates the anger? Evan Fraser, co-author of the book Empires of Food: Feast, Famine and the Rise and Fall of Civilizations wrote that “it’s the sense of injustice rather than price volatility that ultimately causes the rioting”.
In 2011, President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the world’s largest exporter of wheat, ordered over 800,000 tonnes of the grain and stockpiled it in an attempt to avoid civil unrest. His plan failed and infuriated citizens took to the streets in protest (Globe and Mail 2011). If food prices continue to rise at their current rate, we can only assume that the frequency and intensity of foot riots will increase. With profit being the primary goal of most involved in the agricultural system, monocropping has been employed by many of the world’s food producers.
As defined by Schanbacher in The Politics of Food (2010:56), monocropping refers to the practice of growing the same crop year after year without rotation to other crops. This method is economically rewarding for farms as it produces higher yields, allows them to invest in crop-specific equipment and because many governments provide subsidies to farms which utilize this method. By continuously growing a single crop, (namely soybeans, wheat and corn), the land becomes depleted of its nutrients and therefore highly dependent on fertilizers and incapable of supporting vegetative life.
Those employing this method often choose to abandon the land after leeching it of its nutrients, as it is less expensive than working to maintain it. Furthermore, just as mortality rates in the Native American population soared after being exposed, by European settlers, to infectious diseases to which they were not immune, monocropping exposes crops to the same situation as they lose their genetic diversity. Take for example the Irish Potato Famine of 1845, which occurred after potatoes were introduced in response to the suffering economy and extremely low wages of the working class.
Though originally intended to serve as a supplement, potatoes swiftly became a staple of the Irish diet and when a bacteria travelled to the UK in 1845, the entire crop was wiped out. Over the next three years, one in eight Irish died of starvation, but unfortunately, many of us seem not to have learnt our lesson (Nestle 2007:247). In fact, the US government currently offers substantial subsidies to those farming the primary monocropping products: corn, soybeans and wheat. When discussing public wellbeing in the United States of America, one often references the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
The FDA’s mandate is to promote safety through ensuring that: conventional foods, dietary supplements, and drugs are safe and accurately labeled, and to ensure that drugs have benefits confirmed in clinical trials (Nestle 2007:227). Despite being an American institution, the FDA has many international interests and is considered the de facto standard around the world. In 2009, President Barack Obama called the FDA’s failure to inspect more than 95% of food processing plants “a hazard to public health” (Paarlberg 2010:158).
Many members of the general public have called for additional funding to support more complete inspection coverage, which would alleviate the significant pressure that is currently being placed on small and organic farms that cannot compete with their large competitors with ties to the FDA. The Food and Drug Administration is also responsible for researching and publishing information about the safety of different foods. Of particular concern are the potential risks associated with the consumption of Genetically Modified foods.
Despite claims that there are no studies showing links between GM foods and health risks, in 1998 the FDA was forced to publicize more than 44,000 internal documents noting links with allergies, toxins, new diseases, anti-biotic resistant diseases, nutritional problems and cancer causing agents (Paarlberg 2010:168). In 1961 the World Health Organization instated the Codex Alimentarius Commission whose purpose was to create international food safety standards, but to this day there are still many dangerous chemicals in use (Lang, Heasman 2004:48).
Though guidelines exist to limit the use of chemicals in genetically modified foods, little is done about those used in animal feed and other by-products that are eventually consumed by humans. Due to bioaccumulation, the “progressive increase in the amount of a substance in an organism or part of an organism which occurs because the rate of intake exceeds the organism’s ability to remove the substance from the body. ” the effect of these toxins only increases as the products arrive at the top of the food chain: humans (U. S. Geological Survey: 2007).
These pesticides provide a pathway for Persistent Organic Pollutants, which we store in our body fat and which have a destructive impact on humans, wildlife, land and water (Lang and Heasman 2004: 225). In fact, POP’s have been linked to everything from cancer to reproductive and birth defects to neurological diseases. Though food producers are expected to follow CDCA (Centre for Disease Control Agency) guidelines, this only protects consumers if they ingest a single portion of an individual item (Lang and Heasman 2004: 226,227).
Foods with the highest levels of POP’s include: butter, melons, cucumbers, peanuts, popcorn, spinach and squash (Lang and Heasman 2004:227). This poses a major problem as even if foods are individually within the CDCA guidelines, collectively they pose major risks. With the recent trend towards “Green Politics”, the amount of pesticides used has decreased and due to biased education the general public has assumed this to mean that our food is safer. Unfortunately, the toxicity of pesticides used has increased approximately 10-100x since 1975 thus putting consumers at great risk (Lang and Heasman 2004:227).
One cannot discuss Genetically Modified foods without referring to the Monsanto Corporation. In 2001, Monsanto was listed as #3 in the world when it came to agrochemical sales and many have labeled it “the worlds most unethical company” (Nestle 2007:101). They are a world leader in the production of genetically modified foods and they created the highly poisonous herbicide Roundup which is incredibly damaging to both ecology and humans. Unfortunately, Monsanto, and many other companies like them, have taken advantage of their positions of power to bias the public in favour of their products.
In a 1999-2000 American Dietetic Association nutrition fact sheet sponsored by Monsanto, they said, “The U. S. government has a well co-ordinated system to ensure that new agricultural biotechnology products are safe for the environment and to animal and human health” (Nestle 2007:113). Given that the ADA represents the interests of 70,000 nutritionists many see their “fact sheets” to be trustworthy, but we need to be more wary as many ADA certified nutritionists are in fact employed by companies like the Monsanto Corporation (Nestle 2007:113).
In Das Kapital, Karl Marx presents the idea of commodity fetishism; that in a capitalist society, money and commodities are fetishes that inhibit our ability to see the reality of a given situation because we view them as relationships between goods as opposed to a relationship between people. In the case of food security, commodity fetishism prevents people from acknowledging that someone was exploited to produce a given product and that our choices as consumers support this unfair treatment (Thomson 2010:164-166).
This purposeful distancing of the owners from their means of production allows them, and as a result, the average consumer, to disengage from the food system. Raj Patel, the author of Stuffed and Starved connects this to one of the three pillars of food security- food accessibility- and says that “the fantasy of those not willing to pay has removed the need for compassion from food economics, as if to say that it is someone’s choice to go hungry as opposed to their inability to afford or meet the high asking price. . This enables society to believe that “our choices at the checkout don’t take away the choices of those who grow our food (2008). In Power and Resistance, Sandy Miller discusses the idea of food as inspiration and imperative for social change. She outlines ways in which the food system is failing and some potential solutions. Amongst them, Miller focuses on modification of land use practices, ownership of food infrastructure, accessibility to land, food distribution policy, and alternative food movements.
The road is long, and not well travelled, but there is hope for a revolution within our global food system and it rests on civil society becoming more educated and thus, engaged. We have to ask questions: Where does our food come from? What is actually in it? What constitutes a healthy diet? We have to change the way people think about food- they have to be the change. Without people standing up, asking questions, and actually practicing what they preach, nothing will change. Though land is widely considered to be a renewable resource, we must examine the veracity of this claim.
Land has the capacity to renew itself, but as more infrastructure is built, less cropland is available and as a result that which remains is often exposed to overuse and abuse; as was previously explained in the instance of monocropping. Furthermore, due to this leeching of nutrients from the soil, erosion rates have accelerated to the point where land reformation cannot occur and genetically modified seeds and fertilizers (such as Monsanto’s RoundUp) are being used more prevalently.
When crops are grown on land that has been leeched of its nutrients, the produce yielded from there will too be nutrient-weak; one example being genetically modified rice. This rice has vitamin A added to it, however to meet your recommended daily intake of vitamin A, one would need to consume fifty bowls of (Norton 2012). Miller presents the idea of land reserves as an important route in the labyrinth of solutions. A land reserve is a “zone in which agriculture is recognized as the priority use, [where] farming is encouraged and non-agricultural uses are controlled” (ALC 2012).
Miller references one very successful case study; British Columbia’s Agricultural Land Reserve (ALR). The ALR covers almost 5 million hectares of private and public land that may be farmed, forested or vacant and any person or people intending on using this land must plan in accordance with the ALR mandate of preserving agricultural land (Samuelson and Antony 2012:257). Because the primary goal of food producers is profit, they are not concerned with proper land maintenance and, as a result, the nutritional value of their goods.
When discussing land, it is essential to consider its accessibility and distribution, as this is a major indicator of who maintains ownership of the food infrastructure. In a 2011 paper released by the United Nations, titled Corruption in the Land Sector, the Food and Agriculture Organizations reported that: Effective and enforceable land governance provides a necessary framework for development and an important defense against many forms of corruption. It supports food security and ensures sustainable livelihoods that are essential for people and countries that rely on land as one of their main economic, social and cultural assets.
For example, empirical findings from more than 63 countries show that where corruption in land is less prevalent, it correlates to better development indicators, higher levels of foreign direct investment and increased crop yields. (FAO 2011) A national example of this “[in]effective and [un]enforceable land governance” can be seen in Ontario where the local food infrastructure has been systematically dismantled by the government as they offer payouts to farmers willing to forgo planting fruit trees in favour of more economically viable options such as real estate investments (FAO 2011).
When interviewed, farmers and stakeholders proposed solutions that would “reframe the food chain from farming to processing to storage, distribution and marketing. ” (Samuelson and Antony 2012:258-259). To reach the goal of more equitable distribution of, and access to land, many food movements rely on social justice and well-distributed power. These movements recognize that our current food system is in need of an egalitarian perspective on food infrastructure. Agroecology may be one of the most influential food movements thus far.
This movement promotes the potential to create a new way of living in which the presence of humans will not destroy our planet. Samuelson and Antony describe agro ecology as “a way of thinking in tune with an agricultural ecosystem that tests and solves problems where they arise, in the context of local pests and beneficials, climatic benefits and challenges, and the realities of locally financed and managed farming. ”. Among other techniques, agroecology also involves the use of century old farming methods such as crop rotation.
Crop rotation involves planting in a multi-year cycle so as to avoid depletion of nutrients, and susceptibility to pests (2012:260). La Via Campesina, a peasant organization, is dedicated to promoting food sovereignty through the use of natural resources and support of domestic markets. Canada’s National Farmer’s Union constitutes one group which makes up the 150 million members from 69 different countries. La Via Campesina’s mandate is to grant membership solely to peasants (representatives of large corporations are not welcome) and to ensure that power remains within the hands of the majority (Samuelson and Antony 2012:259).
Another alternative to supporting these large corporations, The Farm-to-Community Movement, is presented in Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition and Health: “this category aims to connect farmers to local communities through farmers’ markets, community supported agriculture (customers pay farmers in advance for seasonal produce), and programs that link farmers to schools, restaurants, and other institutions. ” (Nestle 2007:x). Community gardens are another popular strategy that can help provide safe and nutritious food while simultaneously supporting local infrastructure.
A community garden is a local plot of land worked on by a group of people who share the work, as well as the crops. In this process food is not fetishized as a commodity, instead creating an alternative to capitalism as well as providing the benefit of healthy, local, and organic food. Acadia University features a community garden, allowing for students and community members to have the opportunity to grow their own crops. In addition to splitting the yield amongst its members, the garden supplies food to the Wheelock dining hall, along with Wolfville’s local food bank.
Many have created community gardens in what space they have in their own backyards and most of these gardens function as charities. This allows people living in poverty the opportunity to eat local and organic food they may otherwise be unable to afford thus bolstering all three pillars of food security: accessibility, availability and food use. The presence of community gardens is one aspect of food relocalization; a movement which focuses on eating, growing and distributing locally as a means of lowering carbon emissions (due to shorter travel time) and of stimulating the local economy.
Relocalization focuses on advocating changes in scale, ownership, and relationships from one end of the supply chain to the other. This practice is employed by communities around the world who harvest enough food to sustain themselves, but do not produce for profit. This process is concerned with feeding all members of the given community, and is considered an effective means of eradicating poverty. In 2007, chef and restaurateur Jamie Oliver founded the Pass It On food movement, which encourages healthy eating, habits through a method of education, which promotes exponential growth in its followers.
His inspiration came from the British Ministry of Food’s attempt to manage food shortages by educating the public about proper nutrition during World War II (Oliver 2009:8). With this in mind, he formed his own radical movement in an effort to raise awareness and incite action to help solve the food crisis. In 2010, the largest killers in America were diet-related diseases (TEDTalks 2010). This is the fuel behind the movement’s transfer to the United States, more specifically, Huntington Beach, Virginia – the fattest town in America (Oliver 2009).
He was met with widespread criticism and a general lack of acceptance due to his harsh critique of the American school system. Oliver suggests a weekly session, 30-60 minutes, to educate children on nutrition and healthy meal options (TEDTalks 2010). This solution would be both easy to implement and inexpensive, meaning the government would not have to cut any presently funded programs in order to reallocate finances. Oliver also suggests introducing food ambassadors into local supermarkets.
These ambassadors would be tasked with showing consumers what to buy, how to read labels, and how to cook quick and healthy meals (TEDTalks 2010). The costs of such an initiative would be borne by either the corporations who own products sold in the supermarket or the supermarket itself. Oliver believes that “big corporations need to put food education on the top of their priority list, and at the heart of their businesses” because a large part of change lies in their hands (TEDTalks 2010). They have a corporate responsibility to provide a new, fresh standard of food, and we, as consumers must hold them accountable.
While it may feel like there is no way to avoid being failed by the food system, there is a solution to the problem that you can implement on your own, without the need to influence others. There are many publications released each year, discussing what constitutes healthy eating, but there is one that supersedes the other in terms of influencing the eating choices of the average Canadian citizen; Canada’s Food Guide. Canada’s Food Guide was overhauled in 2007, and renamed Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide (Health Canada 2011).
While the majority of the Canadian population, including schools and other public institutions, use this guide when planning meals they have little to no understanding as to how this guide was developed. The Food Expert Advisory Committee conducted the redesign of the guide in 2007, with members appointed by Health Canada (Health Canada 2011). One would assume that the members of this committee would be physicians and nutritionists that had a keen interest in the betterment of our heath; that they would be using their knowledge for good.
A closer examination of the members of this committee uncovers the contrary; that many of the members have a strong conflict of interests. Paul Paquin held the position of chair at the time of the 2007 Food Guide revisions, while simultaneously acting as vice-president of the International Dairy Federation (Health Canada 2012). Paquin is not alone in holding a conflicting position while on the Food Expert Advisory Committee. Also advocating for the dairy industry is committee member Dr.
Mansel Griffiths, who is concurrently on the Expert Scientific Advisory Committee for Dairy Farmers of Canada (Health Canada 2012). With our Food Guide in the hands of such individuals, is it any wonder that dairy has it’s own distinct category in our Food Guide? Separate from the interests of these members of the committee, there is also the issue of meat in Canada’s food guide. In 2011, Harvard University released a study on the effects of red meat, disclosing that consumption leads to an increase of death due to cancer and heart disease, as well to an overall risk of death (Harvard School of Public Health 2012).
The study detailed that one daily serving of unprocessed meat increased the overall risk of mortality by 13%, while the same serving of processed meat increased the risk by 20% (Harvard School of Public Health 2012). This then begs the question of why it is so ingrained in the minds of civil society that we “need” animal protein to survive? Despite these findings being published by a well-respected institution, Canada’s Food Guide continues to recommend two daily servings of meat for adult females and three for adult males (Health Canada 2007).
They also suggest eating two servings of fish a week, and choosing lower sodium luncheon (processed) meat products (Health Canada 2007). Providing that an individual does eat two servings of fish a week that leaves 12-19 servings available for the consumption of red meat. Canada’s Food Guide fails to reflect these well-researched findings because they are not in the best interest of the one-percent. Cattle farming, both for dairy and beef are lucrative industries in Canada, and they share close ties with the ruling class.
The government is invested in protecting the presently established capitalist environment, that of bottom lines and the best interests of the minority- capitalist corporations- and in doing so is harming the majority- it’s citizens. As has been shown in this report, food security is part and parcel of a larger cycle of social problems. In Power and Resistance, Antony and Samuelson present some of the issues which are both affected by and effect the matter of food security: persistent poverty in Canada, Indian residential schools, and the global economic crisis.
Though not comparable to many developing countries around the world, it is essential to note that food insecurity does exist in developed countries such as Canada. In the 2007-2008 census it was reported that 7. 2% of Canadians were living in households that were food insecure (Health Canada). A primary contributing factor to the inability of Canadians to access food is its high cost. In 2012, Dieticians of Canada released the report The Cost of Eating in BC 2011 which drew attention to the fact that many British Columbians don’t have the resources to afford nutritious food.
This is due, in large part, to the significant rise in food and shelter costs and the unchanged welfare rates (Dietitians Canada). In essence, people are not earning any more but their costs are rising meaning they cannot afford what Food Secure Canada calls “safe food”: nourishing foods being readily at hand and the restriction of unhealthy products. One of the most impoverished groups in Canada is our Aboriginal community and as was presented, much of the school-age population was forced into residential schools up until 1998 when the last band school was dismantled.
In these residential schools, food accessibility was of major concern as poor nutrition and the withholding of food were used as a means of control and suppression. Even after the closure of these institutions, the aboriginal community is continuing to feel the effects of its government’s exploitation. A 2010 study from the University of Western Ontario found that parental residential school attendance had a positive correlation with experiencing food insecurity, and that food insecurity was negatively correlated with doing well in school. In Health Canada’s 2007-2008 report on Household Food Insecurity, 20. % of Aboriginals were found to be living in food insecure households- this is 3 times higher than the non-Aboriginal households. “The global financial and economic crisis has pushed an additional 100 million people into hunger in 2009, bringing the overall number of undernourished people in the world to over one billion. ” (FAO). The current crisis shadowed the climbing price of food and significantly limited food accessibility worldwide. In 2009, domestic staple foods in developing countries cost approximately 20% more than they did in 2007 (FAO).
In order to deal with food insecurity, which directly threatens development, many households have been forced to implement negative coping strategies such as: selling of assets, becoming trapped in debt, withdrawing children from school, illegal activities, and forced migration. Furthermore, with the simultaneous decline in income and rise in food costs, individuals often reduce spending on “safe food”- primarily meat, dairy products, fruits and vegetables. What is clear from these examples is that there is a pervasive interconnectedness and that in order to make progress, multi-faceted and situation-appropriate approaches must be developed.
To conclude, while it is easy to fall into the “traps” that result in the exploitative relationship between multinational producers and consumers, there are other options. The current food system is laden with large organizations that take advantage of limited consumer knowledge combined with government partnerships. This pairing allows for consumer knowledge to stay at a level where they can be easily exploited, demonstrating that the government is a key player in the continued failure of the food system in the eyes of their own citizens. All is not lost, as there are ways that individual consumers can mitigate the ffects that this failure has on them. The solution is for consumers and other members of the bullied group to look out for their own interests. Having the maximum control and knowledge about what is going in your body is paramount. Eating locally allows for the greatest possible understanding of the narrative of a given good before it reaches your plate. Be an informed citizen: do research on the issues that affect your wellbeing, do not let power equal credibility, trust no one and question everything. References: “Agricultural Land Reserve. ” Provincial Agricultural Land Commission. Retrieved 11/26/12. http://www. alc. gov. bc. ca/alr/What_is_Ag_Land. htm). Canadian Biotechnology Action Network. (2012). Labeling of Genetically Engineered Chakraborrty, A. (2008). Exclusive: we publish the biofuels report they didn’t want you to read. The Guardian, Retrieved from http://www. guardian. co. uk/environment Eberhardt, Jennifer, Paul Davies, Valerie Purdie-Vaughns, and Sheri Lynn Johnson. 2006. …. “Looking Deathworthy: Perceived Stereotypicality of Black Defendants Predicts ….. Capital Sentencing Outcomes. ” Psychological Science 17(3):383-386. Eric Holt-Gimenez and Raj Patel. 2009. Food Rebellions! Forging Food Sovereignty to Solve the Global Food Crisis . New York, New York: Pambazuka Press, 2009. ETC Group. (2008). Who owns nature. Corporate Power and the Final Frontier in the Commodification of Life, No. (100), Retrieved from http://www. etcgroup. org/content/who-owns-nature “Food Aid: Reducing World Hunger” Canadian International Development Agency. Retrieved 11/26/12 (http://www. acdi-cida. gc. ca/acdi-cida/acdi-cida. nsf/eng/JUD-24133116-PQL). Foods in Canada. Retrieved October 15, 2012, from Canadian Biotechnology Action Network: http://www. cban. ca/Resources/Topics/Labeling “Glossary: Bioaccumulation. ” U. S.
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