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GEORGE: Can we all agree everybody eats?

July 17, 2018 - 12:28 PM

OPINION


Have you ever noticed how issues can morph from being issues into being something that only the "other side" is concerned about? For example, how did the idea of climate change become only a "left" issue? Examining topics like this can be contentious and due to our intransigence when meeting facts that challenge our beliefs, for little gain. Luckily, everybody eats.

For generations in this province environmental issues were seen as everybody's concern. Conservationists and sportsmen had an equal chance of falling to the right or the left of the political spectrum and great strides were made on the environmental front. A Republican president in the United States even signed the Clean Air Act in 1970 setting a world standard. While the economy was booming the feeling seemed to be that we could afford to look after the places where we lived and worked.

The reframing of the environment as an issue strictly of the left took awhile. Economic conditions changed. Personal income in North America peaked in the early 1970s. It became easier to sell environmental degradation to people as part of the cost of doing business, as the price of the jobs they needed to feed their families. Fear is a powerful motivator.

Forty-eight years later we have another Republican president that is currently dismantling five decades of progress in environmental legislation. The right has pushed the market and shareholder profit to a place of prominence over clean air and water. If a conservation measure threatens either it is derided as a socialist plot. The impact of human CO2 pollution on our climate is the poster child for this idea.

No market has been immune. The food market has been just as fragmented by this left/right dichotomy as any other. Organic vs. Monsanto. Permaculture vs. Industrial Monocrop. Local vs. Global. Farm Gate vs. Oligopoly. It is easy to see where the battle lines are drawn. But as polarizing as each of these issues can be there is a fundamental common ground that we all share; everybody eats.

Ideological differences take a back seat when it comes to food. Everyone wants high quality, tasty, and nutritious food. More than anything we all want this available in sufficient quantity to ensure that no one in our families goes hungry. Affordability has always been a barrier to putting food on the table. And even as that particular impediment has seemingly gone by the wayside, we are presented with new challenges to keeping people fed, at any cost.

Extreme weather (one of the predicted impacts of climate change) has disrupted the production of certain foodstuffs in certain places many times over the past decade. From unseasonable cold taking out peppers in Mexico to severe flooding devastating winter wheat in Kansas, these impacts have sent ripples through the global food market. Drought, aquifer depletion (especially in the mid-west of the United States), and the pollution of surface water are all cutting into the orderly production of food as well.

With a reversal of globalization now evident on the global political and trade scene, the imperative for local food over global in order to secure our supply has never been greater. When a geopolitical event someplace far, far away or even right next door can throw a spanner into the process of feeding ourselves, everyone, right or left, can agree that developing a robust local food system is prudent.

British Columbia produces about 50% of the food (by dollar value) that we consume. A major category where we do poorly is grain. Even though we produce more fruit than we consume in total we import three times as much fruit as we export. This disparity points out that seasonality also needs to be taken into account when thinking about food and our food system. Variety and seasonality were two big winners under globalization and are two areas where we will be forced to pay attention to in the near future.

What we eat has an impact on our environment. And our environment, as it always has, is having an impact on what we eat.

Conservative, Liberal, or Green. Everybody eats. This is common ground and its importance to the health and well-being of our families is undeniable. This is one issue where ideological positions tend to fall away as people from across society begin to think beyond the chequebook and the grocery store. Common ground is important as it allows us to talk to each other, a necessary prerequisite to solving our common problems.

— Chris George believes one measure of a just society is found in how well it balances fiscally conservative economics with social responsibility and environmental soundness in all of its living arrangements.


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