Helping farmers get food to market is one of the things D&P is asking of the federal government in its postcard campaign this year. Photo by Michael Swan

To D&P, food is ‘At the Heart of the Action’

  • September 16, 2016

For almost 50 years solidarity with those in greatest need has been the central, driving purpose of the Canadian bishops’ Catholic development agency.

But solidarity isn’t something broken off from daily life and daily necessity. For the 10,000-plus members of the Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace, the struggle has always been to integrate solidarity and social justice into the ordinary, everyday rhythms of life.

That’s why this year’s public education campaign, under the title “At the Heart of the Action,” wants to get people thinking about their food — where it comes from, what it costs, who grew it and what the whole process has extracted from the Earth.

This year’s Development and Peace postcard to the prime minister asks Justin Trudeau to put agriculture at the heart of his government’s efforts to slow climate change. Global food production is a major driver of climate change. It produces nearly half the world’s greenhouse gases. As agriculture becomes more industrialized it drives up greenhouse gas production and drives small farmers off their land and into the unsustainable urban slums of the world’s poorest countries, according to Development and Peace.

At the Paris climate summit in December, Trudeau committed Canada to spending $2.65 billion by 2020 on helping poorer nations adapt to climate change. Development and Peace is asking that a substantial part of that fund be used to help small-scale, family farmers.

The postcard and the campaign behind it asks our government to: recognize the essential role of small family farming; help small farmers get their products to market for a fair price; ensure access to land for family farms; and consult with small-scale farmers on trade, development and climate change agreements.

But Development and Peace never limits its campaigns to what government should do. The Catholic agency believes ordinary citizens, parishes and families should contribute to the solution. In this case, that means making Canadian Catholics more aware of what they’re doing in the grocery store, in the kitchen and in a restaurant.

“We need a cultural transformation around the role of the meal as a celebration,” said Development and Peace research and advocacy officer Genviéve Talbot. “We have to celebrate when we eat, but also (celebrate) how it is produced.”

Talbot acknowledges it isn’t easy for Canadians, most of whom live in cities, to identify with the struggles of small farmers in Latin America or Africa, or even the farms and farmers who lie just outside our own cities. Few of us are farmers or know much about farming, but we all eat. However, it seems the more we eat the less we value food. The French spend an average of 2.5 hours per day eating and share 80 per cent of their meals with friends and family. In North America, we’ve got it down to 75 minutes per day and we eat 60 per cent of our meals alone.

It makes no sense for Catholics, whose central religious rite is the eucharistic meal, to treat eating as a chore or a solitary, guilty compulsion, Talbot said. Eating should be a shared experience that connects us to our human nature, to the Earth and to other people.

Development and Peace isn’t trying to promote some snooty, upper class food snobbery based on local, organic fare found in the most expensive corners of high-end grocery stores. Nor do they want to come down hard on farmers who have to work hard to satisfy a market that constantly demands more and cheaper food.

“The idea is neither to blame the consumer (nor the farmer). When you’re living paycheque to paycheque food is important, but it has to be available, good quality food,” said Talbot.

The world is complex, but we can’t let the economy make decisions for us. We have to decide what kind of lives we want to lead, what kind of economy we want to have, what kind of global community we want to live in.

“There’s a huge movement toward urbanization,” Talbot said. “By 2050 about 70 per cent of the entire human population will live in urban areas. But we still have to feed them.”

A surprisingly high percentage of the food we eat originates on small-scale family farms, said Talbot.

“Between 70 and 80 per cent of the world’s population is being fed by small-scale farmers. When you look at what big (corporate) agriculture or monoculture will bring about, it’s not necessarily food. It would be bio-fuels.”

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