Some seed retailers have reported growing demand amid an apparent pandemic resurgence in gardening, while some local farms reported increased sales. Awareness of where our food comes from and all the issues this implies will be important for building a more resilient post-pandemic food system.
Food literacy includes knowing how to plan, select, prepare and eat healthy meals as well as being aware of and engaged in food systems. Ontario’s Food Literacy for Students Act (Bill 216) aims to make food literacy mandatory for all Ontario students in grades 1 through 12 to “ensure that students are given opportunities to grow food, prepare food and learn about local foods”.
Chronic disease is a burden on our healthcare system. It costs Ontario $10.5bn annually and disproportionately affects those facing health inequities, such as people with lower socioeconomic status, indigenous peoples, sexual and racial/ethnic minorities, immigrants and people living with physical or mental impairments.
Awareness of food systems and policies – sometimes known as agricultural literacy – is important for everyone since these systems and policies affect our environment, economy and the people working within them. These systems and policies also influence the foods that are produced or available to us locally, in turn affecting our health and cultural food practices.
Educating students about food systems could help the next generation to envision and build more equitable and resilient food systems and advocate for the foods and food justice issues relevant to diverse cultures and communities. Food literacy education could help empower students and communities to be engaged in policy decisions affecting food, choosing what they eat, how it is produced, processed and distributed — all of which affects community food security.
In 2020, the Coalition for Healthy School Food called on the federal government for a one-time investment of $200m in a dedicated school food fund for infrastructure and equipment, such as kitchens and cafeterias, greenhouses, appliances and tools, and pilot projects.
Many of the infrastructural changes that would result from Bill 216 could also support a national school food programme. They could also help to teach about the new Canadian Food Guide, indigenous and diverse cultural food practices since food programmes would benefit from kitchen and garden facilities.
However, the programme is yet to be funded. Canadians who signed a House of Commons e-petition 1957 presented to the House in May 2019 calling for a national school food programme are eager to hear more about next steps and how this could dovetail with Bill 216.