Friday, July 12, 2024
Chris Judd

Myths about food!

Just this past weekend I participated in two lengthy conversations, with two very different groups of people.
One, was a very rural group of rural neighbours, who have spent most of their lives only a few acres from some of the hard-working farmers who produce our food. The second was a very lengthy conversation with a very well-educated and informed person who had spent his life of many years living in a large city many miles away from where his food was produced. I realized that both ends of our every day consumers were very disconnected from the reality of how their food was produced, processed and eventually delivered to food stores that they frequent.
The first myth that I noticed while listening to both groups of consumers was that they both thought that “food was scarce?” Even during the first weeks of the covid-19 crisis, when our food distribution system took several weeks adjusting to how packaging and delivery had to change – as many people were confined to their homes, and even had to work remotely from home – with most meals prepared and eaten at home, not at a nearby restaurant where they had worked only a few days before, there was no shortage of food being produced by our farmers.
There was then, and for thousands of years, a gigantic gap in the wealth of the world’s consumers who depend on buying all that they eat. While some families can afford a chef to prepare meals fit for a king every day of the week and only eat half of what is prepared, some of our families right here in Canada depend on local food banks to help them make it from one paycheck to the next.
There is also a huge percentage of food that is grown that never gets to the dinner table. We have become accustomed to seeing only perfectly-shaped and unblemished veggies and fruits in grocery stores. Thousand of tons of food are discarded in the fields, processing plants or grocery stores because it doesn’t look perfect. During covid, most people switched to eating the majority of their food at home, rather than at restaurants or fast-food drive-throughs. Farmers noticed a drop in farm sales because all restaurant food not eaten is discarded. When food is prepared at home, only what will be required is prepared, and even then some leftovers can be skillfully reused for the next meal. Experts estimate that less than 40 per cent of the food grown in the world ever gets eaten.
Another myth that is widely talked about is that in the near future there will be a world-wide shortage of food, unless farmers adopt the use of more chemical fertilizers and sprays to enhance the volume of food produced. World farm organizations have debunked this myth.
At one world agriculture annual meeting that I attended, a speaker from South Africa mentioned that 90 per cent of the farmers in the world depend on saving some of their own grain to plant next year’s crop because they cannot afford to purchase new hybrid seed each year. They also cannot afford to buy chemical fertilizer, herbicide, or insecticide. They rely on maintaining a healthy soil that can produce a crop each year without the addition of chemicals. Those farmers are also more aware of the nutritional density of the food that they produce and less concerned about volume.
A myth that is more often heard in large cities than in rural areas where our neighbours are better educated is that “a few millionaire farmers” control agriculture and food production. Actually, farmers and their own local farm organizations work continuously to make sure that this doesn’t happen. Sometimes it is one of the gigantic food processors or distributers who try to promote this myth. Farmers who use the supply management method of marketing their products like chicken, egg and dairy are usually the target of those critics.
The Canadian supply management system is the most advanced in the world. It was created more than a half century ago by a group of farmers and Canadian government employees who realized that the open-market system was not the most efficient system of marketing. Countries that do not use any form of supply management control over production, may be allowing over-supply which discourages production. After a year or two of low prices, farmers either go broke or abandon that production. Then a period of underproduction follows with needs to import product to supply the demand.
To buffer this over-under production cycle, governments often buy surplus supply and store it for a bad year of underproduction. I can remember before supply management, when the Canadian Government had too much butter, cheese, skim milk powder and eggs in storage, they shipped ship loads of these surplus foods, that even poor countries refused to accept for free, out to the ocean and dumped them overboard. The farmers said they would guarantee a steady supply and take responsibility of the surplus if the government stopped other countries from using Canada as a dumping ground for their surpluses.
The farmers also developed a COP (cost of production) formulae to guarantee a base price that gave the most efficient farmers a profit, while the least efficient, would either improve their efficiency or go broke. This guaranteed the consumer a constant supply of efficiently-produced food.
A quota was given to each farmer that could produce a safe product. When the price of quota rose to a point that older farmers would rather sell out than encourage the next generation to take over, the farmer-run milk boards capped and reduced the price of quota to allow young farmers to continue the family farm. Some free quota was also allotted each year to encourage new farmers to start. Countries that eliminated the quota system noticed a short-term drop in milk prices, but soon this small drop in price was escalated by either processors or retailers to levels even higher than before quota was eliminated. Farmers that used the open market system to expand and bring home next generation farmers soon went broke when the prices crashed.
The fourth myth I hope is soon remedied. “Todays food is killing us” may be an exaggeration, but we have noticed a huge expansion in the population of health care workers, doctors, nurses, pharmacists, etc., at the same time that waiting times for medical procedures has gotten longer, some diseases like cancer seems to have become more frequent and some of our food has become less nutritional.
People with the longest lifespan seem to live in parts of the world where they eat more natural food, eat no processed foods and breathe fresh air.

Chris Judd is a farmer in Clarendon on land that has been in his family for generations.
gladcrest@gmail.com

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