People and programs 01/20/2017
2017 is less than a month old and already it's asking a lot of us -- asking us to move from the sidelines into the fray, to raise our voices about what matters to us and our communities, and to work together to turn those hopes and priorities into reality. On the food and income front, 2017 will provide great opportunities to build on the progress we made last year -- from growing support for a basic income, to the announcement of a Healthy Eating Strategy and a Poverty Reduction Strategy -- and work together to push that progress forward. Here is a wish list for 2017, and ways you can play a role in turning wishes into musts, and then into reality.

1. A comprehensive national poverty reduction strategy that will tackle the systemic causes of poverty in collaboration with provincial and local governments, and commits to the implementation of specific goals, measurable targets, clear timelines, and reporting on progress. 

Find out more about the poverty reduction strategy and how you can get involved.

The basic income pilot project that’s underway in Ontario is a good first step. To learn more about basic income, read our short backgrounder. Live in Ontario and want to get involved in the pilot planning process? Attend a local consultation in January, complete this online survey before January 31, or write to your MPP to express your support. 

2. While we believe in exploring the potential of a basic income, we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians struggling here, now, to make ends meet. We need to put continued pressure on all provincial governments to raise social assistance rates to levels that enable people to live with health and dignity. A single person in Ontario receives $706 per month on social assistance – an amount that will barely cover housing, forget food, transportation, and other necessities. If you live in Ontario, you can show your support for Bill 6, which calls the government to fix the gap between social assistance rates and the cost of living.

Implementing the Healthy Eating Strategy will include revamping Canada’s Food Guide. We agree with many of Dr. Yoni Freedhoff’s wishes for a revamped food guide, including recommendations for reducing consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages and processed meat; shifting from a nutrient focus to one that also considers how people eat; calling for industry recommendations to be made publicly available; and encouraging Canadians to cook more at home and eat together. Progress on actualizing the strategy will also include restricting the commercial marketing to kidsWatch the video of the panel we moderated with Jamie Oliver and health experts on how the system needs to change to prioritize our kids’ health, and check out the Stop Marketing to Kids Campaign for more ways to get involved.

3. Federal and provincial governments explore a levy on sugary drinks as a lever to reduce sugar consumption. Monies raised would be directed to supporting nutrition and health promotion initiatives across the country.

4. We trash the false idea that donated food waste can solve hunger. Sure, we could all do more to waste less, but let’s separate that conversation from the hunger crisis. Truly ending hunger involves tackling poverty through progressive policies that put more money into the pockets of low-income communities, like a basic income, higher social assistance rates and minimum wages, and affordable housing and childcare.

How can you get involved? Volunteer in a community garden, or in a community kitchen. Get out and do some fruit gleaning. Take your kids to the market to meet a farmer. Organize a community potluck on your street. Tight on time? Donate to support a community food initiative near you.

5. Let’s write more songs about food security and healthy eating, like this broccoli rap by Appetite for Change.

6. We all start cooking more at home. There’s been some chatter that 2017 is the year of home cooking. We’re on board with the idea. Studies show that involvement in food preparation at home is linked to lower fat intake and higher intake of key nutrients. Want to get started? Get your kids in the kitchen and teach them how to cook and enjoy new flavours. Start an office Lunch Club with your coworkers – we love ours. Or turn your book club into a cook club: you can start with a recipe from Goodness: Stories and Recipes and learn more about the Community Food Centre movement while you’re at it!

More than 30 organizations have joined together to form the Coalition for Healthy School Food and call for federal investment in a Universal Healthy School Food Program. You can learn more here. We also need to invest time and resources in teaching kids food skills both at home and at school to give them early the basic building blocks they need to lead healthy and empowered lives.

Government and private funders support a pilot initiative that provides subsidized fruit and vegetable vouchers that can be redeemed at affordable markets at Community Food Centres. This is a program that would ensure the most vulnerable in our society have access to the healthiest food possible. It can be done. Watch to find out how.

Food as a source of pleasure and health oughtn't to mean obsessing about it – culinarily or as matter of dietary self-control. Let's have fun with it, set realistic and forgiving standards for our cooking and eating habits. More than anything, let's remember that there are many who are not invited to the table and work to ensure that good food is not a privilege, but a basic human right.

It’s a tall order, we know. But this is the year to build on the progress that we've made so far. Come on, Canada! Join us in building a healthy and fair food system.