Canada has a reputation for producing superb food ingredients… then shipping them abroad to be processing into finished goods, which we buy back at a higher cost. We further lose their added value because the processing and manufacturing jobs that are part of creating finished goods are part of someone else’s economy, not ours.
Apologies if this sounds like Donald Trump economics. But it’s a recognized fact that turning commodities into finished products is good for any country’s economy.
For this reason, governments have programs that help support local companies’ expansion efforts. Such programs are considered acceptable even by Trump standards – so far, at least – and don’t lead to potentially litigious measures such as tariffs and border restrictions.
But once Canadian products have been created, where do you go to find them?
In grocery stores, there’s no Canada section. And packaging can be misleading. Just because there’s a maple leaf on it doesn’t mean it’s truly Canadian. Instead, a label that reads “Product of Canada” indicates all, or nearly all, of the food, processing and labour used to make the product is Canadian.
This is not a problem that’s exclusive to food, of course. Try buying something as “Canadian” as a Canadian flag made in Canada. Now, there’s a challenge.
Anyway, for 14 years, University of Guelph food laureate Anita Stewart has been pushing hard for a national day of recognition to celebrate Canadian food. That effort has evolved into a grassroots event called Food Day Canada, which she has declared to be the Saturday of the August long weekend. This year, that date falls this Saturday, Aug. 5.
As a rural Canadian (she’s from Elora) Stewart has always been keenly aware of farmers’ role in feeding us, and their mostly unsung status. That’s changed with the evolution of local food. But despite being central to food security in this country and others, the understanding of what farmers do is sporadic, and the success in informing urban Canada about them has had difficulty getting traction.
This year, as a nod to our sesquicentennial, Stewart’s Food Day Canada website (fooddaycanada.ca) is offering 150 Canadian foods and tonnes of recipes, everything from beef to canola to popcorn. And she wants you to share with the world on social media how you’re celebrating, by posting your own stories, photos and videos of your Food Day Canada activities.
A new effort this year to help identify authentic Canadian products is called Canadian Cool Foods (canadiancoolfoods.com). Over the past two years, founder Marnie Scott of Winnipeg has worked to create an extensive product database, which she says is growing every day. With this information at hand, she has created the website as her own sesquicentennial project.
Scott says it helps everyone from consumers to manufacturers find foods and ingredients that meet the official description: 98 per cent or more Canadian ingredients, processing and labour.
Growers and manufacturers behind those foods can list their products on Scott’s site at no charge (it’s not an on-line store). There’s no size restriction on the companies, which opens the door for small, boutique, artisan and specialty product manufacturers.
“I see Canadian Cool Foods as a great way to support the growth of Canadian agriculture, agri-food, fishing and foraging companies, employ more Canadians, reduce imports and grow exports,” she says.
Companies and others are clearly taking to it. Already, over 2,100 products from 280 companies are listed. And the site has been public for just two months.
I hope these two resources help you have a great Food Day Canada this Saturday with your friends and family.