Posted in Food Systems, Social Sustainability and Justice

Feeding 9 billion

This article takes a land-sparing approach…I’ll be sure to post more about that. I don’t necessarily think we need to pit land-sparing against land-sharing approaches, but a lot of times we might assume that anything ‘sparing’ land from agricultural use MUST automatically be good for the environment.

I am actually a fan of the idea of leaving more of the Earth’s area alone to try to bounce back from environmental degradation. (Which won’t happen, btw, if we create irreversible climate change.)

Posted in Food Systems, Social Sustainability and Justice

Chew on This! Canadian campaign to alleviate poverty and hunger in Canada

On Tuesday, October 17, you can easily participate in this great campaign to end hunger in Canada by targeting poverty (which is preventable and solvable, by the way!)

Basically, the campaign holds that the Canadian government should have an anti-poverty plan, instead of leaving the symptoms of poverty to be ‘addressed’ by emergency-aid-type responses led by charitable organizations and faith-based groups. While these charitable groups do some amazing work to help Canadians to cope short-term with symptoms of poverty, they can’t get at the root causes of poverty, so they’re forced to continually fight an uphill battle.

…Food Banks, for example, were supposed to be a temporary measure to help Canadians get emergency food in the 1980s during economic recession. In 2017, food banks are very much still here…and the need for them just keeps growing. It’s not a sustainable situation, and it’s not a solution to hunger. The food bank where I work does not receive any financial support from any level of government – and we aren’t asking for their support either, because the government should be focusing on poverty prevention and alleviation at the roots.

So here’s a proposed Plan to deal with root causes of poverty in Canada so that we can stop the endless uphill battle:

The map at the bottom of the page here shows where you can check out an event being hosted near you. Attending in person lets you talk to volunteers about the issues, find out more, and sign-on to the campaign in person to show your support. Also, pick up some swag to tell more people!

If you’re not able to stop by an event in person, you can also take action here (including signing-on to the campaign online):

Posted in Environment, Food Systems

Plant-based diets

Check out this infographic from Civil Eats about meat eating in America.

Canadians were also eating less meat in 2015 (though it depends on how you define meat; apparently we were eating more chicken…) and like our American neighbours, cost was a main reason. Health and ethical/religious concerns were some other reasons.

I’m currently not a vegetarian (I eat animal products), but I am trying to be more selective about which animal products I buy, and fish/poultry is a fairly small part of my diet. I basically stay away from ‘red meat’ other than the odd exception, and I don’t miss it. I’ve never much liked pork, so that was easy to cut out.

A lot of the taste appeal of meat is, I think, the seasoning and the juices (fat). Getting your legumes and adding nutritional yeast or mushrooms (some prefer soy sauce…to each their own!) to savory plant-based dishes adds a nice umami flavour that meat-eaters might otherwise feel like they’re missing out on. It could also be the texture though…If you get a chance to try jackfruit, that has a very ‘meaty’ texture and can be incorporated into some very tasty stews and curries.

Posted in Environment, Food Systems, Social Sustainability and Justice

Food Sustainability Index including 25 countries

I found this tool through the Barilla Center for Food and Nutrition. It covers food waste, nutritional challenges (overnourishment and undernourishment), and sustainable agriculture. You can also view a ranking of the countries. I like the ‘heat map’ because it gives a better idea of the progress the countries still have to make – even those who rank quite high relative to the other countries. 🙂 

Posted in Environment, Food Systems, Social Sustainability and Justice

Food Donor Tax Incentive

So this is kind of old news, but we aren’t done with it yet, so I thought I’d write a few words on the food donor tax incentive.

A few years ago I probably would have thought that this is a great idea. And probably a lot of people who want to see it implemented everywhere have their hearts in the right place. But I have some big problems with this incentive. Maybe some of these can be addressed with some ‘fine print’ like making sure it’s enforced and represented properly.

My problems with the tax incentives are:
– First, why should big food businesses (mostly retailers) get $ for dumping their unwanted surplus food onto charities? Why not fine them for putting good food in the garbage (it’s illegal in France, although the result is that that French supermarkets have arrangements where they give their excess food to charity anyway), or better yet, fine them for implementing irresponsible practices that are known to lead to preventable food waste? We need to prevent food waste before it happens rather than just ‘recover and redistribute’ food that’s practically on its way to a landfill…
You could also go with the ‘carrot’ approach if you like (oh fine, go be nice to the corporations…it’s probably more effective anyway) and incentivize businesses to implement the types of procurement practices and relationships with manufacturers/producers – as well as the kinds of marketing/storage/sales practices – that are likely to minimize waste. i.e. make it pay off for them to avoid waste to begin with.

– Secondly, charities have a tough time sorting through these unsolicited donations and sometimes have to pay to dispose of them because they’re moldy or rotted. (They may look good at first glance, but a lot of the donations of food dumped onto charities are not safe to eat by the time they arrive.) It’s sometimes an undue burden on the charities, who may feel pressured to take (bad or less-than-useful) donations so that they don’t damage relationships with the public. Which is why, once again, I say that it’s better to avoid food waste than to encourage food retailers to say to themselves, ‘Well let’s continue with business as usual, over-purchase for the full-shelf effect, and then we can just donate the excess to charity…and get a nice tax incentive!’

– Thirdly, the tax shouldn’t be represented as a way to solve hunger, because it doesn’t. That’s false advertising. Yes, we landfill (or compost) a lot of food and it makes intuitive sense that if we could funnel it into the mouths of hungry people, we’d solve hunger, but unfortunately it’s not that simple. Redistribution is arguably putting recovered foods to a better use than sending it to the landfill, but it’s no solution to systemic causes of hunger like poverty, unemployment, dependence on an increasingly unstable pool of waged work in order to feed oneself (gig economy anyone?), and so on. It’s also not a reliable source of food for hungry people. Free meals are usually available sporadically, and the quality and nutritional content varies widely. This is not a criticism of charities that distribute free food – most of them do what they can with what they’re given – it’s just reality.

Posted in Food Systems, Social Sustainability and Justice



I love the stuff so much…but considering the amount of soy, corn, vegetable oil, coffee, and cocoa we in the industrialized world go through – and the impact of it  on ecosystems and farmers – it’s one of the things I have to try to enjoy in moderation. And always of the high-quality fair trade variety, of course. 🙂 [Coffee is something I’m even worse with; I’m a total coffee addict, though I’m down to one cup a day. My magic number used to be lots of cups every day. I try to mix things up by enjoying different hot drinks like locally-harvested ‘tea’ (herbal infusions really), chicory, and roast dandelion. But I still drink a lot of coffee.]

Anyway, chocolate. Easter’s coming, so I thought I’d share a report on chocolate prices and the low incomes of cocoa farmers. Also, did you know that a single average-size household tin of cocoa takes an entire tree’s annual yield to produce? So ya, cocoa’s one of nature’s miracles if you ask me, but it’s precious stuff, it’s labour-intensive, potentially very resource-intensive, and shouldn’t be over-consumed.

Posted in Environment, Food Systems

Dotmocracy on Food Issues

In some of the projects I work on, we sometimes use ‘dotmocracy’ (recently re-worked and re-pitched as ‘idea ranking sheets’) to figure out where the group stands on ranking or ultimately choosing between several options. This is useful if, for example, you have finite resources and have to pick an approach or approaches for allocating them.

For example, at a January 2015 UBC Farm Symposium (Vancouver, Canada), participants were asked to rank several kinds of agriculture: conventional, organic, gmo, and urban farming. Specifically we ranked these according to how well we felt they met certain needs or targets: feeding the world’s population, producing healthy food, having a positive impact on the environment, and contributing to social justice or ‘fairness’ for the people involved in producing the food. We were given a bunch of green dots to indicate ‘Yes – I think this method of food production is good at doing ___’, red dots to indicate ‘No’, and yellow dots to indicate that we weren’t decided or needed more information.

Naturally I wanted to put yellow dots everywhere. 🙂 I ALWAYS NEED MORE INFORMATION!

Questions or points we brought up were things like:

– Urban farming can be organic or not…it’s not typically large-scale due to space restrictions, so mechanization and lots of chemical inputs (and/or GM seeds) would be very unlikely, but you could certainly use pesticides and chemical fertilizers on an urban farm if you wanted to. You could also urban-farm in a lot of different kinds of spaces, and you could grow a lot of different things. So whether or not urban farming is environmentally-beneficial really depends. Of course you can and should always look at what most urban farmers in an area are actually up to, and base your judgement on those facts. But in theory, it depends.

– When we say ‘healthy food’, that could mean several things. I personally put a red dot under the ‘producing healthy foods’ column for the genetically modified foods table. But not because I think it’s necessarily unhealthy for a human to eat a GMO; rather, I don’t think that a corn plant can qualify as a healthy food when it’s genetically modified to produce an insecticide. By definition, it’s no longer a healthy food for arthropods. And bugs gotta eat too! Bugs see corn as a food; but bt corn is not healthy food for a bug. You might think this perspective is ridiculous because that corn is being grown specifically for human use (to be refined into products that will be ingredients in processed foods) and we don’t want it to get all bug-eaten, but the thing is, it’s hard to keep traits like the bt expression from spreading to other crops and plants that may or may not be intended for the same use. Besides, I sometimes think it’s important to take a step back and remember that even though our primary and ultimate goal may be to feed all the humans in the world…we aren’t the only ones that have to eat. And if the bugs don’t eat something, ultimately we all die.

– When we say ‘feeding the world’s population’, technically we produce enough food to feed everybody enough calories, macronutrients, and micronutrients  right now (that is, everyone could be fed a nutritionally adequate diet). But obviously that just doesn’t happen because of, you know, access and entitlement and that stuff. Just because there’s stuff out there in the world that you need, doesn’t mean you’ll ever get your hands on it.

But as for the future – will we be able to produce enough food so that everyone could theoretically have a nutritionally adequate diet in say, 2050 – that’s more ‘iffy’. And there are lots of little ‘what ifs’ that have yet to be determined. Like will most of us want to eat meat? Or will a bunch of us decide to eat insects as a protein source? Basically, what kinds of foods will the world demand? And will the wealthy consumer continue to be allowed to eat whatever they want (viewed another way, will food manufacturers/retailers continue to be allowed to market and sell whatever they want), or will governments and other interest groups get involved? What will our population be in 2050? We tend to treat this population outcome almost like a predictable given (we predict that the population will be X in the year Y), but it does actually depend on interventions we may or may not take.

BTW, ‘Interventions’ regarding population size and growth sounds draconian and scary even to me, and I’m the one who just said it. I don’t mean it like that though, honest. An intervention could be a measure to ensure that everybody on earth has access to free birth control, or a measure to decrease poverty and increase social security in regions of the world where population growth is highest…There is good evidence that better education, health, and economic security lead to more stable population growth rates.