Where are food policy and the fight against poverty in this election?

We spoke to Food Secure Canada’s Rachel Cheng about a usually overlooked issue.

Rachel Cheng moved to Montreal from her native Toronto 11 years ago. While actively pursuing a career in food, she has worked extensively with the Montreal public health department as well as various non-profits including Food Secure Canada, which works with other organizations, academics, individuals and policymakers to build a sustainable and just food system.

With the federal election looming, we spoke to Cheng (who’s currently campaign manager at FSC) about what is usually an overlooked issue, though food policy seems to have re-emerged in the political landscape with the long-awaited release of the new Canada Food Guide this year as well as the federal government’s Food Policy for Canada. FSC is currently working on #EatThinkVote, which asks the public, “If you could speak to the next federal government about food in your community, what would you say?”

Rob Jennings: You’ve talked to several candidates for the election about #EatThinkVote. What were your impressions?

Rachel Cheng: I was impressed by how most candidates understood that food insecurity is largely a poverty problem. The Liberal candidate Steven Guilbeault talked about the government’s track record of poverty reduction measures, and his vision for a sustainable food system for his family and his community. NDP candidate Nima Machouf talked about the importance of investing in local, sustainable agriculture and of organizations who provide healthy, affordable food. Bloc candidate Michel Duchesne spoke of his experience working with collective kitchens in Hochelaga and the need for initiatives like this. And Conservative candidate Lise Des Greniers talked about the importance of making sure people have the means to buy the food they need.

RJ: What do you think are the most important food-related issues for this election?

RC: In election coverage, we talk about jobs, healthcare and education, but Canadians have shown in survey data that food insecurity and affordability is on their mind. Food is a complex issue that intersects with jobs, health and education, and it’s time we discuss these issues together. The two big food questions to those running for government are: in a country as prosperous as Canada, how will you address the fact that one in eight households struggle to put food on the table, and how do you propose to address the climate crisis that threatens our food system with the urgency it requires? ■