Next year, August 1 will mark the 15thanniversary of Food Day Canada. Momentum for this event grows by leaps and bounds, some behind the scenes, and some very much in the face of Canadians.
They can see it celebrated coast to coast, when BC Place is lit in honour of food day, as well as the CN Tower and Niagara Falls. This year even Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed food day in our country’s biggest city.
Just when you think it can’t get much bigger, it does.
As well this year, there was an angle seen by few. In the late spring, a federal private member’s bill to declare a national local food recognition day tied to Thanksgiving failed to get past the Senate. The bill stalled with unusually little attention, and with no cheering one way or another from the agriculture sector.
It was in a tough spot. On one hand, it could hardly be faulted for getting behind anything from Ottawa that drew more attention to farming and food production.
But on the other hand, Thanksgiving was already being looked after by…well, by Thanksgiving. Agriculture realized the growing seasonis what needed to be celebrated across the country -- the way producers usher it in, the way chefs and restaurants present it, and the way consumers celebrate it. We’re collectively immersed in the growing season in August, when Food Day Canada is recognized, and so many fruits and vegetables are ready.
If there’s going to be a National Food Day officially declared by Ottawa – and there should be -- it should be in August.
This year, the August civic holiday weekend weather couldn’t have been better in southwestern Ontario for eating outdoors. We started breakfast on our back porch with peach and blueberry pancakes drizzled with maple syrup, and finished with a pork BBQ at my daughter and son-in-law’s farm near Thamesville.
It reminded me that summer is about access to food. And the take-home lesson is that food is about more than nutrition. Food has a huge feel-good factor that provides comfort and some measure of social unification during turbulent times – like the ones we’re in now. Municipalities need all the help they can get from initiatives that bring people together under a common theme, and food can do it.
But now that Food Day Canada has passed for this year, agriculture must keep its foot on the gas. Agriculture touches society daily, in a way other sectors don’t. That means it has multiple opportunities to remind consumers of the value it provides.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t have nearly enough financial or human resources available to do so. So it needs help from the likes of Toronto Mayor Tory, and federal agriculture and food minister Marie-Claude Bibeau, who used the August event to speak about instituting a national food policy.
That’s fine. Her perspective raises the profile of Canadian producers, who need all the help they can get. This year, besides late planting woes, there’s the unanticipated trade wars with the U.S., as well as sanctions that farmers face from China.
These sanctions have primarily hit canola and pork producers. But their ramifications are everywhere. Case in point: Marcel Rheault, co-proprietor of Rheault Distillery in Hearst, had lined up buyers in China last fall for his award-winning Loon vodka – at about the same time Canada detained Chinese business executive Meng Wanzhou at the request of the U.S. where she is wanted.
“After that,” he told me, “the business connections we’d made in China stopped sending us emails, and stopped answering ours.”
Canadians can be made to understand why agriculture and food in this country constantly needs their support and help, and why it’s in their best interest to buy Canadian. Says Food Day Canada funder Anita Stewart, food laureate for the University of Guelph: “For those who truly believe in our nation, shopping is a political act.”
Thank goodness for Food Day Canada’s role in reminding the country about agriculture’s many contributions – and the challenges it faces -- every day.