Mention the words “Canadian food” abroad and you will invariably hear about poutine. You will get a vote for maple syrup. You may hear murmurs of caribou and tourtière and smoked meat sandwiches.
But more recently, you will hear about Canada’s food in a different context.
This week, British celebrity chef Jamie Oliver launched a campaign to combat child obesity amongst G20 nations. Oliver’s petition to have compulsory food education made mandatory in schools has at press time, signed up 385,043 supporters.
As part of the dog and pony for the cause, Oliver addressed the media in many of the G20 nations separately, but his message was essentially the same.
“The biggest killer in your country is diet-related disease. It’s not guns, it’s not armed robbery,” Oliver commented in a necessarily boilerplate fashion, before drilling down specifically on the Great White North.
“When it has a dramatic cost to public health, which it does in Canada … you really need to do something much more long term, much more strategic.”
Oliver, who operates more than 40 restaurants worldwide, including one in Toronto’s Yorkdale called “Jamie’s Italian”, makes sense and I have no doubt he is right. Diet is a major factor in cardiovascular illness, in certain cancers, and in diseases such as Alzheimers.
And I have no problem with such education being taught in schools. Indeed, I think what Jamie Oliver is doing is valid and important. But it’s also astonishingly easy to sign an online petition, share it with Facebook friends and forget about it.
What I can’t forget, what sticks with me more than this, is what I think is a bigger food issue in Canada right now.
Sometimes we find very edible food that are still in seals and very usable. You can tell by looking at it if it looks good or not and when you take it home you can look at it more and if it’s edible we’ll eat it. It’s OK.
It’s 2015, and we have people eating out of the garbage.
“Sometimes we find very edible food that are still in seals and very usable,” Noel Kaludjak of Rankin Inlet explained to the CBC late last year. “You can tell by looking at it if it looks good or not and when you take it home you can look at it more and if it’s edible we’ll eat it. It’s OK.”
The CBC interviewed Kaludjak after a documentary by the Aboriginal Peoples Television Network called “Wasting Away” showed people in Rankin Inlet scrounging for food at the local dump, and noted the extremely high food prices in Nunavut.
“I’ve never seen that and I was shocked to see it,” said Nunavut MP Leona Aglukkaq. “I immediately phoned the hamlet of Rankin Inlet to get to the bottom of the issue as I was not aware.”
That Aglukkaq is not aware of these issues is surprising. This, after all, is the same person who as Federal Health Minister slammed a report from United Nations’ special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter that claimed 800,000 Canadians don’t have access to nutritious food. De Schutter said Canada should have a national food strategy and outlined steps to accomplish a plan that would provide food security to those who don’t have it.
Aglukkaq response after meeting with De Schutter, whom she called “patronizing”, was a clear attempt to divert the script.
“Food security issues is not about access to that. It’s about fighting environmentalists that try to put a stop to our way of life, of hunting to provide for our families,” she said.
Last December, APTN reported that Aglukkaq denied claims she shouted “that’s not true” when the NDP addressed the issue of Inuit searching in the dump for food.