Good and cheap

The Glengarry News - Glengarry Supplement - - News -

By Matt McIntosh Farm and Food Care On­tario It’s pretty hard to beat food. We need it, we like it, and it can be an in­cred­i­bly sig­nif­i­cant part of who we are.

As any shop­per knows, though, food can also be ex­pen­sive.

The good news for us Cana­di­ans is our na­tional food dol­lar isn’t ac­tu­ally that high. De­spite what our gro­cery bills sug­gest, we have ac­cess to some of the high­est qual­ity – and cheap­est – food on the planet.

Fe­bru­ary 8 was “Food Free­dom Day” in Canada. Deter­mined each year by the Cana­dian Fed­er­a­tion of Agri­cul­ture, “Food Free­dom Day” is when most Cana­di­ans have made enough money to pay for their yearly food bill. Where the event lands each year is deter­mined by com­par­ing Sta­tis­tics Canada data on av­er­age in­di­vid­ual in­come ($32,464) and yearly food ex­pen­di­tures ($3,497).

Based on these num­bers, the fed­er­a­tion deter­mined Cana­di­ans spend ap­prox­i­mately 10.7 per cent of their in­come on food.

Now, 10.7 per cent might seem like a size­able chunk of your wal­let, but it’s an as­tound­ingly low num­ber when an­a­lyzed in a wider ge­o­graph­i­cal con­text. In a 2015 re­port by the United States De­part­ment of Agri­cul­ture (USDA), for in­stance, cit­i­zens of France – another highly de­vel­oped western coun­try with a par­tic­u­larly glo­ri­ous culi­nary his­tory – spend 13.2 per cent of their an­nual in­come on food, com­pared to 9.1 per cent for Canada. Canada and France may not have taken the top spot on the USDA’s list – the United States con­sis­tently takes first prize there – but both were still far into the up­per ech­e­lons.

That same study, for in­stance, shows the Por­tuguese spend 17.3 per cent of their in­come on food, the Rus­sians a whop­ping 28 per cent, and Nige­ria, al­most un­be­liev­ably, at 56.4 per cent. A sim­i­lar 2013 re­port from the Con­gres­sional Re­search Ser­vice also put these coun­tries in very sim­i­lar po­si­tions.

Granted, the USDA and Con­gres­sional stud­ies were cre­ated us­ing dif­fer­ent data than what the Fed­er­a­tion used for Canada’s Food Free­dom Day, but the point is the same – in the global scheme of things, only spend­ing one-tenth of your in­come on food is pretty good.

The flip side of this is, of course, that Food Free­dom Day hinges on what the av­er­age Cana­dian has to spend on food. When viewed within the con­fines of our own in­di­vid­ual ex­pe­ri­ences – whether it be a trip to the mar­ket or a restaurant – food can cer­tainly seem ex­pen­sive. In­deed, Cana­di­ans spend so much money on food

that af­ford­abil­ity and ris­ing costs are con­sis­tently ranked as one of our coun­try’s top pub­lic con­cerns.

As can be as­sumed in a coun­try as vast and rugged as Canada, dif­fer­ent com­mu­ni­ties also ex­pe­ri­ence vastly dif­fer­ing food is­sues. Cana­di­ans in the far north, just as one ex­am­ple, can spend a small for­tune on ev­ery­day prod­ucts such as milk and fresh pro­duce. Con­trast that to the ex­pe­ri­ence to those of us liv­ing in On­tario’s deep south, and there’s lit­tle left in the way of mean­ing­ful com­par­i­son.

Food Free­dom Day helps us un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate what we have as Cana­di­ans. We have choice galore, high qual­ity, and rel­a­tively cheap prod­ucts, and sys­tems that help farm­ers, pro­ces­sors, re­tail­ers and ev­ery­one else main­tain what is, essen­tially, a food-priv­i­leged so­ci­ety.

Food Free­dom Day serves as a re­minder that we are a truly lucky bunch. Many folks both abroad and in our own coun­try do not have the same lux­u­ries, and un­der­stand­ing the rea­sons be­hind that dis­par­ity is never a bad thing.

So­lu­tions can’t be found if prob­lems have no con­text, af­ter all.


GLEN­GARRY DAIRY: This cal­en­dar from 1953 ad­ver­tises the Glen­garry Dairy of Lan­caster, owned by D.N. Cum­ming, a lead­ing Ayr­shire breeder in the county. The dairy was started in 1940 and moved to Corn­wall in 1990.

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