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10 Ways We Can Create A Healthy And Fair Food System In Canada

On the food and income front, 2017 can 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 poverty reduction strategies.
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Hands of a girl putting freshly harvested vegetable in a basket
Hands of a girl putting freshly harvested vegetable in a basket

Twenty-seventeen is only a month old and already it's 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 our shared hopes and priorities into reality.

On the food and income front, 2017 can 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 poverty reduction strategies. Here is our wish list for 2017, and ways you can play a role in turning those 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 that 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.

2. A basic income that provides a dignified and effective way to reduce poverty, one that better respects the rights of those in poverty to make their own life choices, reduces stigma, and produces improved outcomes in health and prosperity. The basic income pilot project that's underway in Ontario is a good first step. Read this short backgrounder to learn more about basic income. Live in Ontario and want to get involved in the pilot planning process? Write to your MPP to express your support. You can also sign our document, The Basic Income We Want to See, and email it to

3. Continued pressure on all provincial governments to raise social assistance rates to levels that enable people to live with health and dignity. While we believe in exploring the potential of a basic income, we know that there are hundreds of thousands of Canadians who are struggling in this moment to make ends meet. A single person in Ontario receives $706 per month on social assistance - an amount that barely covers 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.

4. Progress on the Healthy Eating Strategy announced by Health Minister Jane Philpott last fall. 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 kids. Watch the video of a 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.

5. 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.

6. We trash the false idea that donated food waste can solve hunger. Yes, food waste is a big problem that needs to be addressed, 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 individuals, like a basic income, higher social assistance rates and minimum wages, and affordable housing and childcare.

7. Canadians celebrate our country's sesquicentennial by coming together around food, learning about each others' food traditions and cultures, and getting involved in food initiatives in their communities. Join in! Volunteer in a community garden or 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. Or donate to support a community food security initiative near you.

8. We all find the ways we can to cook more at home. 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? Start with manageable goals, and build from there. And find ways to make cooking a social thing: Get your kids in the kitchen and teach them how to cook and enjoy new flavours. Or start an office Lunch Club with your coworkers.

9. We make progress on the implementation of a national school nutrition program that will help ensure all Canadian children have enough healthy food to eat. 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. 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.

10. Fruit and vegetable prescriptions come to Canada. Government and private funders support a pilot initiative that provides subsidized fruit and vegetable vouchers to low-income individuals, which can be redeemed at affordable produce markets offered by 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.

And, as food and healthy eating become an increasing focus, let's make sure that we keep it in a healthy and just frame/perspective. Let's have fun with food, and 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 for everyone who calls our country home.

Come on, Canada: let's build a healthy and fair food system together.

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