Videos help explain food system to consumers

The Canadian Centre for Food Integrity will use social media to show the public the different parts of the value chain

The grocery store has become more important than ever during the COVID-19 lockdown. Canadians are trying new recipes, baking bread and discussing what’s available at the store and what’s missing.

These millions of conversations make it an opportune time for the agri-food industry to talk to Canadians about farming and the food system.

That’s why the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity is developing a national communications campaign, which will be launched this spring.

“There is a lot of messaging going out from different organizations and different provinces, talking about their individual sector and what they’re doing,” said John Jamieson, president of the CCFI, which has the mission of helping Canada’s food system earn trust.

“But there’s really no co-ordinated message.”

The centre hopes to fill that void by focusing on three goals:

  • Engage Canadians around food during this critical time.
  • Help Canadians better understand the food system and food supply chain.
  • Unite folks from across the food sector from farmer to meat cutter to truck driver.

“To help people understand that the food system is a whole bunch of parts that work together to end with something on (your) plate,” said Jamieson, who joined the centre last year. Previously, he was deputy minister of agriculture and fisheries in Prince Edward Island and executive director of the P.E.I. Federation of Agriculture.

“To tell Canadians, you know what? There are 2.1 million people who work in the food system in Canada, and they’re all doing their best to put food on the table.”

A key part of the communication campaign will be videos created by people who work in the agri-food sector. They don’t need to be slick or highly produced — authenticity is more important.

Examples would include videos of a grain farmer in Saskatchewan explaining who she is and what she does, of someone who works at an Ontario feed mill and of a seed salesperson in Alberta.

“There’s a whole bunch of pieces in (the food value chain) that the average Canadian wouldn’t understand,” Jamieson said.

“We want to put a face on those pieces.”

Anyone who wants to submit a video can send it to learnmore@foodintegrity.ca.

The centre has already collected videos, developed a website and is building channels to share the message with Canadians.

“It will be primarily social media based,” Jamieson said.

“That’s where most get their information these days.”

Social media can be an effective way to tell a story, but it’s difficult to change minds with Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Farm organizations and commodity groups have been using social media for years to connect with the public. So far, the results are iffy.

Public opinion about issues such as pesticides, antibiotics and genetically modified foods really hasn’t budged.

One of the weaknesses of Twitter and other platforms is that they’re echo chambers. People follow like-minded messengers and ignore the rest.

People in the agricultural sector are no different.

“I’m on Twitter … and farmers talk to themselves,” Sylvain Charlebois, a professor with Dalhousie University, said last year.

“Whenever I see a post from a farmer, I see a lot of likes and a lot of re-tweets from other farmers…. That message is not going out (to the public).”

A co-ordinated social media effort from the CCFI could bridge the communications gap between the agri-food sector and Canadians who live in downtown Vancouver or a Toronto suburb.

However, this isn’t a short-term campaign.

The centre hopes it will be a springboard that leads to a larger conversation with Canadians about food and farming.

“As we go down the road and we come out of this pandemic, have a deeper discussion around … this is why the food sector uses science and technology, to provide you with safe and wholesome food,” Jamieson said.

“This is our real impact on climate change. And this is what we’re doing to mitigate climate change.”

Part of that could be television ads if centre members are willing to contribute the necessary funds.

“Once (we) have the platform built … I will be reaching out to organizations and companies,” Jamieson said.

“We have pieces of the puzzle that (could be) a national TV ad, for example.”

The centre has created a tag line for its communication strategy, which will be revealed this spring when the organization officially launches the campaign.

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