Food is ground zero for Canada's most challenging issues, says new report

OTTAWA, Oct. 1, 2013 /CNW/ - Food is at the epicenter of our nation's most pressing issues - from poverty and poor health, to the environment and economy - and communities need to make these critical connections so Canadians can mobilize more effectively, says a new report from Community Foundations of Canada.

"Our most challenging problems are landing at kitchen tables across Canada. Food is the intersection point, the place where we all feel the impact of these big issues in a very personal way," said Ian Bird, President of Community Foundations of Canada (CFC).

"Momentum is building around food. Canadians are already driving change locally on many different fronts," said Bird. "From community food centres and farmers' markets, to healthier snacks in schools, and restaurateurs with 100-mile menus, we are transforming our relationship with food. But we need to see the whole picture to have the impact we want."

Fertile Ground: Sowing the seeds of change in Canada's food system, released today as part of CFC's national Vital Signs program, calls food a defining issue for the century ahead. Among the report's key findings:

Fighting the symptoms isn't working. The principal cause of hunger is poverty. For 30 years communities have been responding to hunger with food banks and other strategies, but food bank usage shows no signs of slowing down - in fact it's 31% higher than it was before the downturn in 2008. Combine this with food prices that are rising at nearly twice the rate of the Consumer Price Index and it's clear that this problem won't be solved with food donations alone.

Our choices are hurting our health. There are now more obese people than undernourished people in the world and here at home more than three in five Canadian adults are overweight or obese; Type 2 diabetes is one of the fastest growing diseases in Canada.

And taking a toll on our environment. Feeding the world's population has led to massive changes in agriculture over the past century. The practices we've developed to build a more efficient food system - monoculture farming, irrigation systems, pesticide and herbicide use, long distance transportation to worldwide markets - are having a major impact on our environment. Greenhouse gas emissions directly related to animal and crop production alone accounted for 8.1% of total 2009 emissions for Canada, an increase of 20% since 1990.

First nations are hit hardest. In Nunavut, 57% of children live in food insecure homes. Residents spend 25% of their total expenditures on food - while the rest of Canada spends about 11%. And Aboriginal peoples have three to five times the risk of developing Type 2 diabetes than other Canadians.

Canadians are driving change. Canada's organic sector has experienced double-digit annual growth in production and retail sales over the past decade. Farmers' markets are reporting more than $1 billion in annual sales. Young farmer enterprises are performing better than other farms in Canada. The signs are all around us: Canadians are taking local food matters into their own hands. How can we build on the momentum?

Canada has the potential to be a leader on the world stage. We are the sixth-largest exporter and importer of agriculture and agri-food products in the world. Relative to other countries, we enjoy some of the lowest food costs in the world. Our 'food movement' is gaining momentum rapidly - making the timing perfect for greater collaboration and impact.

3Things4Food
To spur action in response to the release of its Fertile Ground report, Community Foundations of Canada is challenging its network and Canadians to consider doing 'three things for food.' "Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi asked Calgarians to do three things for their city. We're asking Canadians and their communities to consider three things they can do for food," said Bird. "Let's start a broader conversation about food in our communities - one that isn't focused only on hunger."

For CFC's part, the organization will be 1) convening national groups working in the food space to determine opportunities for shared action and engagement, 2) sharing the Fertile Ground report at gatherings across the country and providing information and tools to all 191 community foundations across Canada and 3) will highlight the issues related to food at the inaugural Community Knowledge Exchange Summit in Toronto in early November 2014, an event that's part of a new iterative and multi-stakeholder approach to building and sharing community knowledge. 

Communities across Canada releasing local reports
Vital Signs is an annual community check-up conducted by community foundations across Canada. It provides a comprehensive, reader-friendly look at how our communities are faring in key quality-of-life areas. Today, 25 community foundations across Canada launch their own local reports at www.vitalsignscanada.ca.

Community Foundations of Canada is the national network for Canada's 191 community foundations, which help Canadians invest in building strong and resilient places to live, work, and play. Find out more at www.communityfoundations.ca.

Note to editors: A backgrounder and full research summary are available at www.vitalsignscanada.ca

SOURCE: Community Foundations of Canada

For further information:

Skana Gee
Media Relations Coordinator
902-223-5234
sgee@communityfoundations.ca

David Venn
Communications Manager 
613-236-2664 x 302
dvenn@communityfoundations.ca

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Community Foundations of Canada

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