‘There’s a lot more to food than I knew’

I love #food. For me, food comes from the grocery store. With about 50,000 items in the store, the options seem endless – and I can pick any one of them for my meal.

I cook to ensure there will be an explosion of taste that lights up my taste buds the way a symphony orchestra ignites a beautiful blend of sounds in my ears. Eating, for me, is an experience – it is visual, visceral, physical and emotional.

One day, as I was waxing eloquently in a deeper conversation about how food is produced, I realized I knew nothing about farming or food production and distribution. I didn’t even know any farmers.

Quenching my curiosity, I read the Canadian Centre for Food Integrity’s 2019 public trust research to learn that more and more Canadians are asking those same questions, and many of us aren’t so sure about food quality, security and affordability.

As a result, my new video series, Food For Thought, was conceived. With the support of Bayer, I was afforded an opportunity to dive deeper into food and all its layers, nuances, diversity and complexities.

Who do Canadians trust with their food? #Farmers. So I reached out to a few of them. I am now in awe of these extraordinary women and men who are passionate about their work. Their work is remarkable; their care for the land is unquestionable. After all, it is their investment in the future.

#Farming these days is precise in execution. “No-till,” GPS, laser-guided seeding, seed selection, plant nutrition, irrigation, pest management and remote sensing all play a part in the management of a healthy crop. It’s digital, it’s data-driven, and it’s controlled from smartphones.

Then, there are the scientists who are equally passionate about #foodproduction. They focus on soil conditions, water use, fertilizers and pesticides. And as a result, Canada has one of the safest food systems in the world. They’re working on ways to help plants work with microorganisms in the soil to help sequester carbon.

During my journey, I met farmers and food producers. One of those producers was the remarkable Murad Al-Katib, the man whom food professor Sylvain Charlebois calls the “#WayneGretzky of pulses.”

While there is a growing sense of uncertainty as we navigate through the pandemic, and while there may have been a few food items I had trouble getting, I never once worried about whether I was going to be able to eat. That’s a pretty strong statement about how well we’re doing in Canada.

Murad’s remarkable insights led to the development of an entire new export and domestic crop that helps fields restore nitrogen and – at the same time – provides economic opportunities for farmers. In doing so, he’s played a role in ensuring food costs for you and me remain affordable in Canada.

My explorations also took me to a conversation with Kristjan Hebert, who said, “Agriculture is the oldest profession in the world with the greatest upside for new opportunities.” It’s an exciting business that is in trouble in Canada. Trouble, you ask? How is that possible based on everything I just said?

The answer comes from a misunderstanding about food production and its role in the environment and the hopes, dreams and wishes of people like me, who somehow think we know better. So, we who think we know better are putting pressure on the agriculture industry, politicians and regulators, saying “I want this food, but you have to make it this way” even though we don’t really know what we’re talking about.

Furthermore, there is a human resources shortage. Less than two per cent of Canadians are farmers, which was by design. Governments wanted people to move off the farm and into the city. The plan was so successful that now, as we move forward, fewer and fewer bright young people are choosing agriculture as their career path. So, while I know more about food and how it gets to my plate than I did before, I also know that meeting the needs of Canadians and others from around the world who depend on us is not a sure thing.

While there is a growing sense of uncertainty as we navigate through the pandemic, and while there may have been a few food items I had trouble getting, I never once worried about whether I was going to be able to eat. That’s a pretty strong statement about how well we’re doing in Canada.

For those interested in following my journey to understand our food, you can watch my video conversations with agricultural dynamos at http://itsgoodcanada.ca/food-for-thought.

CONTENT FROM: CELEBRATING FOOD AND FARMING IN CANADA REPORTPUBLISHED by the Globe & Mail October 11, 2020Written by: Stuart McNishHe is an award-winning broadcaster and journalist with more than 30 years in the business. He currently produces Conversations That Matter, a weekly interview show that has expanded to a channel of associated programs that include health, genomics, salmon, politics and Food for Thought – an examination of #Canada’sfoodsupply – which he says is the most important work he has done.

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