Many post-secondary students face the grim reality of living with food insecurity.
College student Mitchell Dixon attended an event called Eat Think Vote, hosted by the Nipissing Area Food Roundtable and coordinated by Food Secure Canada across the country.
Dixon wanted to hear what the five federal candidates running in the Nipissing-Timiskaming riding for the upcoming federal election had to say about their party’s federal food policy and how it affects local consumers.
“I got some answers I wanted to hear but not everything I wanted to hear. We have two very different sides. There is one side that looks at money and the other side that looks at the social issues,” said Dixon.
“There are a few good ideas floating around. The free tuition is a really good idea. I think it really addresses that problem of food insecurity with students. I spoke with a couple of candidates and they had a lot more direct things to say that should have been said on stage, but what they had to say was comforting.”
The evening left Dixon rethinking his vote.
“I came in very decided and now I’m leaving undecided. I thought it was a really good presentation. I’m going to sit down now and really do my research and see what they have to offer and make my decision within the next few days.”
Joan Topps attended to hear how the candidates plan to provide better access to healthy and affordable food for all.
“It was a worthwhile way to spend an evening. I listened to it all. Some of what I was hearing I wasn’t too much in agreement with. Other parts I was okay with. I do know who I am voting for locally.”
Erin Reyce is a public health dietitian and a member of the Nipissing Area Food Roundtable, comprised of community members and stakeholders.
“Our goal was to help our MP candidates understand the food policy issues in Canada and hear from them on their party positions. We also want to help participants and community members understand how federal food policy does impact us at the local level.”
Four speakers with a connection to food priorities addressed issues pertaining to healthy school food, Indigenous food sovereignty, food insecurity and healthy diets from sustainable food system.
They followed up with a question to the candidates as it relates to their specific concerns.
“Those are just four areas the federal government does impact what we eat, and our local food systems and food environments. I don’t think people give our food system much thought, and there is a lot to think about. As we heard there is a lot of different factors to consider that the federal government plays a significant role in,” explained Reyce.
“We heard the passion come through from all our candidates about the importance of good food in our community and supporting small farms. There were different priorities.”
NDP candidate Rob Boulet sees affordable nutritious food as a priority for good public health and a strong economy.
“Low wage jobs and precarious work means people in the workforce often don’t have enough income to become food secure. Our vision of a Canadian food strategy ensures that everyone eats well, and agriculture communities are sustainable for generations to come, and that Canadian products find growing markets at home and abroad,” said Boulet.
“Working with communities we can improve access to healthy food for every Canadian. The NDP government will support local food systems by connecting Canadians to farmers with initiatives like local food hubs, community supported agriculture and networks to increase the amount of food that is sold, processed and consumed in local markets.”
Green Party candidate Alex Gomm sees earning a liveable income as one way to secure access to healthy food.
“One of the first things a Green Party government would do, would be to institute a guaranteed liveable income, because the Green Party feels that one of the major stumbling blocks to food security is not having the money to buy food,” said Gomm.
“We support the focus on increasing access to healthy food which includes a national lunch program, a Buy Canada program and increasing food security for northern communities while reducing food waste.”
Conservative Jordy Carr spoke about the need to eliminate the carbon tax to benefit people struggling to buy groceries.
“One of the things the carbon tax did was drive the cost of our groceries up. Between the farmers having to pay extra for their fuel, the cost of transporting the food, the cost of groceries has grown exponentially while everybody’s wages certainly haven’t. Cutting that will help families have a little bit more money in their pocket.”
People’s Party of Canada candidate Mark King outlined his party’s commitment to ensure food affordability and security.
“We are committed to dismantling the outdated supply management system that protects millionaire farmers, reduce the tax burden on farmers and producers, eliminate the carbon tax, simplify the tax system and implement immigration caps of 150 thousand.”
Anthony Rota, Liberal candidate for Nipissing-Timiskaming, told the crowd his government has made an initial financial commitment of $134 million to address the problem.
“Fifty million will go to the local food infrastructure fund to support community lead projects such as local green houses, food banks and farmer’s markets. Fifteen million dollars will go towards addressing food insecurities in northern and isolated communities. And $25 million to create a Buy Canada promotional campaign. The ultimate goal is to work together. Federal, provincial and municipal governments along with social organizations to ensure that all Canadians have access to good food.”
Markus Wand, owner/operator of Wand Family Farm in Powassan was one of the four speakers.
He asked the candidates how their party plans to support agriculture and more specifically how they plan to support larger type operations, family-type operations as well as those who focus on producing food for local markets.
“The response quite honestly wasn’t what I had hoped. I think some of the candidates tried touching on the answer I was looking for, but some focused on harping on certain points of their platform but didn’t actually get into how they plan to support agriculture, so it was in general disappointing actually,” said Wand.
“I was hoping they would be more specific in terms of what programs their government would fund or roll out to support farmers.”
Kathy Chippa is the community development coordinator with Community Living North Bay’s Student Nutrition Program, covering 105 schools in three regions, including high schools and adult learning centres in Nipissing, Parry Sound, and Muskoka.
She asked the candidates if they were committed to supporting a federally funded school nutrition program.
“Funding for each program is only a maximum of 15 per cent from the provincial government. My question to the candidates was if they would support a national food program within the schools,” said Chippa.
“A couple of the candidates are for it, so on our end it would be great. We see on a daily basis students who come to school that they have nothing in their tummy. It is right from junior kindergarten, so we’re talking three-and-a-half-year old’s up to high school students.”
Food Secure Canada is coordinating these events across the country leading up to the federal election.