Making Food a Municipal Issue
(A photo shared on social media of a Dominion store during a storm in 2015 – CBC NL.)
Remember the last time you were at the grocery store following a storm? We do, and the bananas were greener than the spinach, we were assured that the meat would be ‘on the truck coming tonight’, and not a chip was to be seen. On one level, this is a provincial matter, and an agricultural issue. Our province has evolved into one heavily dependent on imports and transportation. According to a 2007 report by the Newfoundland and Labrador Department of Natural Resources, 90% of the fresh vegetables available through wholesalers in our province are imported1. Even our “self-sustainable” meat industries rely heavily on imported feed and our fisheries are largely an export business.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Cities around the world are taking action to improve their food systems. Municipal governments have more influence than you might think. Municipalities have a central role in the food supply chain, between the importation of food in this province and its distribution to people like you.
The way our neighbourhoods are designed can limit our access to healthy food, while overwhelming us with unhealthy choices. Food really is all around us-sure, even Staples has a food aisle now-and this is not always a good thing. According to the Food Policy Lab at Memorial University, the St. John’s city-region area is home to 25 grocery stores, 181 convenience stores, and a whopping 290 fast food outlets.
Urban and regional planning also plays a critical role in improving the distribution of food. Some municipalities have adopted food friendly regional plans. The newly revised London (Ontario) plan mentions food over 90 times! This will keep food in the conversation for decades to come. Making food a priority in regional planning is critical to improving health.
Cities can engage residents, businesses, and neighbourhoods in direct ways. Even seemingly routine city issues like parking and snow clearing can have a big influence on the operation of a local food business, with an impact on our food access.
Cities can foster meaningful change in our food system by encouraging dialogue. Last year St. John’s endorsed the inaugural St. John’s Food Policy Council (SJFPC), a group of citizens with experience from all across the food system, including food access, food production, food infrastructure, buying and selling, and eating and celebration, who will identify ways for municipal policies to improve our local food system. Check out their website: http://sjfpc.ca/.
Platforms like the SJFPC and the upcoming regional plan give all of us the opportunity to get involved in the conversation about food, how food-friendly our city is, and what we need in order to have a healthier, sustainable, fair, and secure food system. What is a food system? I think City Councillor Dave Lane captured the definition of it best in the Overcast, when he said, “The food system includes our environment, our farms and factories, our transportation networks, and all of the people who work at every stage of getting food from farm to table to landfill (or sewage treatment plant…), and so much more”2. Thanks for that Dave!
By considering how our access to food is affected by different policies at the regional and municipal level, communities across the Avalon have the power to change food systems and environments for the better. And not only for residents, but for small food businesses, entrepreneurs and food innovators!
While there are flaws to our current food system, we see a vast potential for the future and we are looking for more ideas from you. One way to do this is to learn more about the food system and how it affects you, through the work of Food First NL and their report ‘Everybody Eats’ at http://www.foodfirstnl.ca/our-projects/everybody-eats.
If you have ideas for improving our food system and improving everyone’s access to healthy food within the region tweet out to us @happycitySJ tagging #healthycities and let’s keep the conversation going. We have the power to influence the future of our food system through a healthy city and better regional design!
If you missed it check out our last blog on the regional plan here: http://www.happycity.ca/blog/posts/2017/march/13/new-post/
To get updates on the regional plan and become part of the process
1. NL, F. F. Everybody Eats. (2015).
2. Lane, D. Is Our Foodie Frenzy Just a Flash in the Pan? The Overcast (2016). at <https://theovercast.ca/is-our-foodie-frenzie-just-a-flash-in-the-pan/>