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I’ve lost track of the number of times I’ve heard people say they’d like to take 2020, put it in a box, and toss it.
The year, so far, has been one of disruption and fear. There’s no end in sight.
But I’ve just as frequently heard references to some of the good things that have come from this pandemic crisis.
One colleague mentioned that despite the trials of carrying on with her paid employment from home while providing her own child care, she has deeply appreciated the time she’s had with her young family being a stay-at-home mom.
Others have remarked on the serenity that comes with living life at a slower pace and in a smaller world. Those of us who travel frequently for work haven’t missed the airport experience much, if at all.
One of the big gains out of this has been a renewed appreciation for the relative security, safety and availability of our food system.
There have been disruptions there, too, of course, and it’s become clear that we need to do a better job of caring for the people who help grow, transport, process and market our food.
We have a responsibility to those folks. However, we also have "response ability" — the capacity as a country to address those issues. All it takes is the will.
So, as we celebrate Food Day Canada today by shopping local, cooking at home and eating with family and friends — virtually or in person — it’s a good time to be grateful for what we have, but also to reflect on what we can do better.
Food Day Canada grew out of a typically Canadian response to another crisis that affected our food supply. A case of bovine spongiform encephalopathy in 2003 prompted most countries to close their borders to Canadian beef. Canadians held the World’s Longest Barbecue in a show of moral support as farmers were forced to hold onto cattle and stockpiles of processed beef grew.
This year, Canadians are urged to "shop like a Canadian" using an all-Canadian shopping list. It’s a great idea in theory, but even if all Canadians shopped all-Canadian all of the time, it wouldn’t be enough to support all of the farmers we have today.
That’s the catch-22 of the global pandemic and one of the biggest risks to our agricultural sector in its aftermath. Pundits are predicting the shop-local phenomenon will be a global outcome as countries become more protective of their domestic supplies and suspicious of foreign suppliers.
That was already occurring pre-COVID-19 and the notion of "de-globalization" has become mainstream.
"One of the things as we move into this de-globalization phase or regionalization or localization is the drivers of this change are going to be governments and society and the consumer," University of Tennessee agricultural economist David Kohl told the virtual audience attending the recent Ag in Motion Discovery Plus farm show. "The impact is going to be extreme volatility of price and cost."
Kohl went on to say that supply chains are going to come under increasing scrutiny in this environment. "Do we have too much concentration? Do we need to build more resiliencies into our regional and local processing?
Those changes, if they occur, will come at a cost, either to the people producing the food, the people buying the food or to taxpayers. Who is it going to be?
So while it’s important for Canadians to celebrate their local food bounty, it’s equally important that they recognize that bounty is supported in large measure by Canadian farmers’ continued access to global markets. They can’t afford to have every country embrace a shop local mantra.
Kohl said one of the big positives for farmers to emerge from the pandemic is a "repositioning" of modern agriculture’s image.
As consumers, perhaps we can use Food Day Canada as an opportunity to engage in some food for thought about the larger issues facing our food system. Or maybe we just enjoy the day and save the dialogue for another time.
Laura Rance is vice-president of content for Glacier FarmMedia. She can be reached at email@example.com
Laura Rance is editorial director at Farm Business Communications.
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