Friday, 18 January 2013

Woah Nelly

There's a video doing the rounds on Facebook telling Canadians to eat locally grown foods. A noble sentiment. It touches briefly on one aspect of the problem: less farming going on. This is actually only a part of the problem, and not the major part. The video fails to educate effectively or accurately. Not surprisingly. Most people do not understand the food supply. Why should a mayonnaise manufacturer know any better?

Yes, farming in Canada is decreasing. Farming in most western nations is decreasing overall. What is increasing is bad farming: GM and monoculture. Older style family farms are disappearing because the kids don't want to take over. They saw Dad working hard and struggling to make a profit. He encourages them to do something else with their lives. Let's face it, farming isn't seen as cool. If you want it to continue in Canada, it's not just a problem with money, it's a question of attitude.

But that isn't the main problem either. The main problem was not mentioned. Maybe because the funding for the video, coming from Hellmans, meant that the message was not sincere. Hellman's don't really want us to stop importing food.

The reason Canadians import so much food is that we have become accustomed to having salad in January. There was a time when northerners, especially the poor, lived on a very dull diet in winter, consisting only of food that could be stored. There is a reason why Cabbagetown is so-named. There is a reason why hunting is traditionally so popular. There is a reason why so many staples of the diet of the masses is grain or potato-based. 50 years ago, ordinary working-class Canadians did not have the luxury of being able to easily pick up affordable imported FRESH food.

Today, you can buy almost anything at almost any time. The type of grape available varies, but you can buy grapes year-round. Despite the fact that they are harvested locally for just a few weeks at the end of summer, and in quantities too small to supply the domestic market at that time. If you want strawberries at Christmas, no problem. If you want apples in May, there's plenty to choose from.

We CAN'T grow fresh produce year round. Even in BC the season is too short. Most fruits and vegetables are harvested between June and September. That's just three months. Greenhouses extend that for certain items, mostly salad crops, but the cost of raising "hothouse" tomatoes is such that the price of imported ones is often half. Which is the shopper going to choose?

It's no good saying "I am willing to pay more....". You might, but the masses won't. People are cheap, and mainly because they have no bloody choice. When you have a limited income you look for bargains, that's how it is. People have to make choices. Sometimes that choice is to not buy fresh produce at all, but when they do it won't be expensive local hothouse tomatoes, it'll be cheap imports.

Because we're spoiled. We have got so used to being able to buy cheap imports, and to obtain anything at any time we consider it normal, and we expect it. If Canadians were suddenly required to go back to only eating food in season, or that could withstand long-term storage, there'd be riots in the streets.

As for beef imports, where climate is not such a big issue, the answer is price, plain and simple. American beef is frequently raised on concrete. You don't need me to tell you the disgusting conditions in, and terrible product from the "feed lots". South American beef is raised on effectively "free" land. You know all about that too. Canadian beef is better quality, and a better system all round, but it costs more to produce, and people are cheap. The main reason Canadian beef farmers aren't making any money is that no matter how little they take for their meat, they still can't compete with the imports.

The only way to change it all is to change the demand. The entire industry is demand-based. The people get what the people want. The people want cheap food, at a time that suits them. If you want to educate people, teach them to eat as much food in season as possible. Teach them that frozen Canadian produce is only marginally less nutritious than fresh foreign imports, and they can make up the difference by eating more of it. Teach your kids not to make fun of "hicks" too. Teach them than farmers are seriously cool and, actually, heroes. Worth a try.


  1. Excellent post--and I agree with you. Farming has changed over the years. People have been yanked away from working WITH the land to working FOR corporations. In the process, we have lost touch, not only with what makes food real, but much of what is 'natural' as well. Sad all around, really.

    We can make change happen, and I feel more of us are now willing (i.e., see the need) to grow our own and/or buy local, fresh food. It is very empowering to do more for ourselves, and I feel like making a little round of applause for Hellman's or any other "company" --and writer-- who gets us to think (and ACT) in the right way. ;) ~ Blessings!

  2. I am careful about the fresh produce and meat that I buy, and I've gone so far as not buy produce from certain countries because of their bad farming practises. But I admit that I do have a weakness for blueberries in January (and a good source of vitamins).