It’s a term that’s becoming an increasing part of our everyday language: food poverty. It’s about those individuals and families who suffer food insecurity every day and have to make difficult and painstaking choices on what they have to give up to feed those they care for. Over 4,000,000 fit into this category, including 1,500,000 children. It’s an unsuitable situation in any land and a toleration of injustice to put it plainly.
Food poverty has broken up families, led to emotional and mental breakdowns, poor health, poor school grades, chronic health conditions, and a lack of participation in normal social interactions. And don’t use food banks as a measure of how great the problem is because those suffering food insecurity are far greater than those who frequent food banks each month in Canada.
And what would you say if you discovered that Ontario doesn’t even grow enough to feed its own population? It’s a bit of a shocker, I know, but according to the McMaster University study, Dollars and Sense: Opportunities to Strengthen Ontario’s Food System, as reported by CBC a couple of years ago, Ontario doesn’t produce the food it requires, but it has the capacity to do so if the public will was there.
In a strange kind of situation frequently repeated in a globalized world, Ontario exports foods like corn, carrots, beans and peppers at the same time as it imports these items from other countries. In fact, the study found that we important twice as much as we export of such goods. The reason? A large part of it is that Ontario’s citizens prefer the look of their imported foods in comparison with what is locally grown.
And consider this. The report discovered that over half of the province’s 20 billion dollars of food imported each year can readily be grown right here in our own back yard. If that was enacted, the McMaster report estimates that some $250,000,000 would be created, with the additional benefit of 3,400 jobs created by the industry.
How important is food to Ontario’s employment health? The southwestern region of the province sustains some 105,352 food jobs across the entire province. More jobs await Ontario if it invests in the growth, harvesting, production and selling of local foods.
But first there are some things we must address. Presently our province runs food deficits by importing potatoes, beef, chicken, lamb, cabbage, strawberries and apples – all of which can be grown in Ontario. The province’s food system generates $63 billion in food each year and much more could be acquired. It also houses 11% of the entire provincial labour force.
These are huge numbers, yet despite all of that advantage we still can’t, or won’t, feed ourselves through the acquisition of locally grown food supplies. Something isn’t right with this picture, but thanks to the McMaster report we now know two important things: what we are losing and what we could gain. It’s just a matter of getting citizens to prioritize what is grown in some of the richest land in the world all around them.