COVID-19 shows all Canadians need access to healthy food

When I was younger, I marvelled at my grandparents when they spoke about having to ration food during the Second World War.

It seemed so strange that my grandma, who spent most of my childhood baking us peanut butter cookies and other treats, once had to limit her use of sugar and other goods.

I suspect rationing gave my grandparents an appreciation for the food they eat and from where it came. That has been lost over the following generations.

We have grown familiar with being able to buy any food we want, in any form, using our fingertips and a phone.

COVID-19 is making it clear that Canada does not have adequate measures in place to ensure everyone has access to healthy food.

That is, of course, a huge concern.

The pandemic is an opportunity to reclaim some of those lost values, and at the same time revaluate the social security measures we have in place to supposedly ensure access to nutritious food for all Canadians.

Perhaps it is no coincidence my grandma spent countless hours of her life preparing healthy soups and sandwiches to donate to outreach centres: she knew the value and privilege of accessing a good meal.

It’s a lesson Canadians are learning now, as they see grocers striving to keep shelves stocked with the food they want, and hear warnings about price increases or concern about product availability.

It’s also a lesson playing out in communities across the country, as demand at food banks increases while donations plummet.

Producers can help in this national teaching moment by sharing stories that help Canadians understand the incredible amount of labour needed to grow nutritious fruits and vegetables, or the amount of dedication required to ensure chickpeas and eggs remain on shelves.

If Canadians develop a better understanding of what it means to live in a country where healthy and nutritious food is typically available, they will be one step closer to recognizing what is needed to ensure all Canadians can benefit from that privilege.

The social safety net currently offered by emergency food systems is not the solution to Canada’s food security problems. The pandemic’s impact on food banks makes this clear. So too do the men and women who continue to stand outside my local grocer asking for food.

The University of Guelph’s Jess Haines has suggested that an income-based solution is needed to ensure all Canadians have enough money to buy proper food, no matter the situation.

“A basic income approach can ensure all Canadians can survive these shocks,” she said during a recent conference call organized by the university’s Arrell Food Institute.

Haines also believes Canadians should be given the skills and resources to prepare healthy meals through the creation of a national food and nutrition program.

This would create another opportunity for producers to inform Canadians on how nutritious food ends up in kitchens and on tables across the country.

It would also lead to Canada being a healthier society.

While the idea of a basic income or national food program may have once seemed far-fetched, Haines argues COVID-19 has “shown us what’s really politically possible.”

By offering millions of Canadians $2,000 each month for up to four months if they have lost income due to COVID-19, the federal government essentially set the bar for a basic income already.

The government has already proven what is possible. After the pandemic, Ottawa should continue ensuring all Canadians have access to healthy food.

D.C. Fraser is Glacier Farm Media’s Ottawa correspondent. Reach out to him by emailing dfraser@farmmedia.com.

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