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Eat, Think, Vote: centring food as an election issue

Interviewed & edited by Hannah Muhajarine 

Photos by Geralyn Wichers,Manitoba Co-operator

​On September 25, the South Osborne Farmers’ Market hosted an Eat, Think, Vote (ETV) event as part of a campaign of Food Secure Canada that gathers community members across the country to speak with federal candidates about food issues in their community ahead of the upcoming election.

The South Osborne Farmers’ Market has ended, but the federal election is well underway! On our last market of the season, we invited candidates from the riding of Winnipeg South Centre to our own ETV event at the market to share their parties’ platforms on food and agriculture.  Food is not usually talked about as an election issue, but it touches on so many things--from agricultural and trade policy, to climate change and healthcare. That’s why it’s crucial to know what policies and proposals candidates and their parties have to help us build a food system that is sustainable, equitable, and accessible for all. All candidates were invited to attend. Jim Carr (the Liberal incumbent), Elizabeth Shearer (NDP), James Beddome (Green Party), and Linda Marynuk (Christian Heritage) all showed up to chat with market goers, while Joyce Bateman (Conservative) and Jane MacDiarmid (PPC) declined. We managed to nab Elizabeth, James, and Linda for a few minutes each. Unfortunately, Jim did not have time to talk. Here’s what we found out! (Please note that with the candidates’ permission, answers have been condensed and edited for brevity and clarity).

1. What do you think are some of the most important food issues in your riding, Winnipeg, and Manitoba? JB, Greens: Firstly, I think there’s the issue of food security, which really is about inequality and the growing gap between the rich and the poor. The Greens have a policy for a guaranteed liveable income that would end poverty in this country. We also need more localized food production by connecting our producers with our consumers. It’s worth noting that the average plate of food for a Canadian consumer travels fifteen hundred kilometres— that leaves us with a very food insecure system. In an era where we’re facing climate change, we could see massive shocks to our global supply chains that we rely on an export-oriented agriculture. In a place where we should have a lot of abundance and plenty, we wouldn’t even be able to feed ourselves. But beyond that, our current model of agriculture is very unsustainable which is why we’d like to see a push towards regenerative agriculture. LM, Christian Heritage: Well there are a lot of food issues…a lot of people live on minimum wage. There’s also a lot of young people that have no salaries and they have a lot of financial constraints. ES, NDP: We obviously know that food is at the heart of Canadians. But over 40 million Canadians experience food insecurity all across Canada, and particularly in the North.  Here in Winnipeg South Centre, a lot of the people that I’ve talked to wish that local healthy food could be more affordable. They love that the South Osborne Farmers Market exists, but they’ve expressed to me that they can only really afford to buy local once a week. We really need to have  local food made more available, but also more affordable. It’s hard enough to adhere to the Canada Food Guide for a Healthy Diet, let alone buy locally on top of that.

2. In your plans to tackle food insecurity, is local food a priority? If so, how would you help to bridge the gap between consumers, especially those food insecure, and local food providers? JB, Greens: Firstly, we need to start with the increasing greater knowledge of where people’s food comes from. I was lucky enough to be a farm kid myself, but for many people they may not have that connection. I also think we need to be supporting more community and urban gardens. I mentioned the guaranteed liveable income, but there’s other ways to help with food insecurity such as by making it accessible for everyone to grow their own food and supporting community groups like Sustainable South Osborne and Fruit Share There are also many regulations that limit how large producers can be, how they have to sell it, and how it has to be directly marketed. Our regulatory scheme needs to be opened up to allow more people to grow their own food and market it.  Transportation and marketing is also where the government has to put a lot more of our focus. We need to look at programs that are going to support farmers in connecting with consumers. LM, Christian Heritage: Yes, it’s very important. The cost of not addressing food insecurity is very high. I’d say make food more affordable for people. A lot of the stores, when there’s a date on food, could give it to food banks instead of throwing it away. Because for a lot of people, food banks are their last resort. ES, NDP: I know that there has been a recent shift towards growing more diverse crops in Manitoba such as pulses, soy, hemp—I think we need to continue on that route. We need to be creating more protein-rich sources of food that we can develop and manufacture here in Canada and sell locally.  Our party supports an increase in research and development on new products that can meet the needs of Canadians to provide a more locally-sourced food system. And also working with farmers, working with people that know the land more than anyone else. We definitely want to connect farmers to more markets in urban centres, but also with each other, even more so, to increase innovation and share best practices.

3. "The demographic that experiences the highest level of food insecurity are First Nations, Métis, and Inuit people. This is a result of colonial practices that have led to ongoing challenges that many Indigenous peoples continue to face" (Food Secure Canada , 2019). Given this reality, how would you work to improve not only food insecurity among Indigenous communities, but also increase their sovereignty over their own Indigenous food system?

JB, Greens:The first thing to highlight is to recognize our colonial past. I myself am part of the settler population. It starts with recognizing that we really are, bluntly put, on stolen land.

The Green Party is in favour of getting rid of the Indian Act and giving First Nations more land to have underneath their own management and control. We’d work with First Nations leadership over a period of ten years to make that a reality.

That will provide more spaces for people to carry out their traditional rights to hunt, trap, fish, gather. It would also create more economic opportunities related to tourism and to food production.

LM, Christian Heritage:I am First Nations, so I have a lot of experience working with people in First Nations communities. I work in the school system, where I have to travel to schools across Manitoba. And when I go up there, I can’t always bring food with me on the plane because of freight charges. And then when you do go up there, a jug of milk is like eight dollars. They need better access to roads. A lot of the communities don’t have roads so you either have to travel by plane or on winter roads and so it’s very expensive to transport food. 

They also need more money for community initiatives such as breakfast programs and local gardening.

And then to revitalize traditional knowledge among young people because there’s a lot of Elders in the community that could easily talk to and teach them. 

ES, NDP:It’s something like 67% of communities in Northern Manitoba are food insecure. Coming from a human rights lens, that’s unacceptable. There has to be an increase in investment in transporting healthy food options for those people that are living in harder to reach areas, but on top of that, you need to invest in more sustainable ways of producing food in those communities. I would want to work in consultation with First Nations communities. I would love to learn more about their solutions to fighting this problem, and connecting them to the research and skills needed to increase the overall food sovereignty for their communities.

4. How would you help small to medium-scale farmers in their efforts to mitigate the impacts of climate change?

JB, Greens:In Manitoba, agriculture is our largest source of emissions which is contributing to the climate emergency that we are facing. This is because we’re very reliant on synthetic fertilizer that release a lot of greenhouse gas emissions both in the way it is produced and used. At the same time, there is a lot of opportunity to reverse this trend by doing farming in the right way. There are about 1.7 megatonnes of carbon per year we could sequester in the soil through regenerative agriculture practices. 

We need more support for small and medium-sized farmers. A smaller, localized, more niche market could actually deliver more economic revenue than a larger overproduction model. Often, we’re farming marginal lands that depend heavily on using a ton of pesticides and fertilizers, and it’s not even that economical to farm. There are ways of reclaiming or restoring marginal lands and wetlands that have the potential to become carbon sinks and create a steady economic benefit for farmers.

LM, Christian Heritage:To me, addressing climate change is a collaborative effort that requires scientific knowledge but there’s also other ways of finding out about the weather and effects of climate change. We need both.

ES, NDP:We definitely need to invest in small farms. We have to make sure that they’re ready to respond to climate change and that there’s infrastructure and transportation available so they can get their products to market.

One of the things we often take for granted in urban areas, that a lot of rural areas don’t have, is access to high speed internet, and affordable phone connections. If more rural farmers or agricultural producers were able to access more steady, reliable services like that, it could help them connect to each other and create direct market systems to support their work, and make a lot of their production more efficient.

The NDP supports decreasing food waste as well. Having more efficient systems to get food to table helps alleviate the food waste coming from that system.

Or how the main political parties compare on other top election issues:

For more voter information, including advance polling, voter registration and where to vote, visit:

Election Day is October 21, 2019.

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