Every bite counts: Government must set menu for BC's food system in face of climate change

November 2, 2010

(Vancouver) A new report is calling on the BC government to take action to make BC’s food system work better for farmers, eliminate hunger, shift away from imported products, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The report, Every Bite Counts: Climate Justice and BC’s Food System, released today by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives (CCPA), calls for a rethink of BC's food system in light of climate change. The report acknowledges grassroots efforts to move to local, sustainable agriculture have found support at the local government level. Largely missing, it says, are actions by the provincial government to accelerate change.

The report argues that climate impacts will undermine the abundance of the modern supermarket. "BC imports about half of its food, leaving the province vulnerable to supply disruptions and price shocks," says report co-author and CCPA-BC Senior Economist Marc Lee. "Our food system is also a contributor to climate change."

Leadership from the provincial government for a "made in BC" strategy is essential, through a more coherent planning framework. Says Lee, "this is not a task that can be left to market forces alone."

A key recommendation of the paper is to link local food to the purchasing power of large public and non-profit institutions such as schools, hospitals, universities, prisons, and social housing units. “If a growing portion of food budgets in the public sector were dedicated to local food sources, it would provide a huge boost towards creating a more localized food system,” says Lee.

“BC needs to develop a more just distribution of food, better support farmers, farm workers and fishers, and seek healthier nutritional outcomes from our food system,” says Herb Barbolet, report co-author and Associate with the Centre for Sustainable Community Development. “At a deeper level, this is more about an ongoing cultural transformation in how we think about food, waste, the economy, labour, health and education.”

Alejandro Rojas, Principal Investigator of the UBC-based community-university research alliance Think & Eat Green @ School Project, notes, “Schools have tremendous potential for addressing hunger, improving nutrition and teaching kids where food comes from, through meal programs, school gardens and curriculum development.” The Think & Eat Green @ School Project involves 25 community partners and works to connect Vancouver K–12 students to food and sustainability issues while helping schools lighten their ecological footprint and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Other recommendations include:

  • Shift to 80% food self-reliance by 2030: To be more resilient to climate change, BC needs to reduce the amount of food we export and focus on meeting domestic consumption needs. Getting to 80% self-reliance will also require a doubling of our current food production capacity.
  • Take hunger off the table: To eliminate hunger, BC needs to raise the incomes of low-income households, beginning with a provincial poverty reduction plan. Ensuring workers can earn a living wage and funding adequate income support programs are essential if we are to reduce hunger.
  • Support integrated food, housing and health programming for vulnerable populations: Housing programs should build in flexible food options and infrastructure that meet the nutritional needs of their residents.

“These ingredients point towards a food system that could be, with strong public policy actions, just and sustainable. BC is starting in an excellent position to move forward,” says Barbolet. “But we need strong leadership from our provincial government.”


To arrange an interview call Terra Poirier at 604.801.5121 x229. Every Bite Counts: Climate Justice and BC’s Food System by Marc Lee, Herb Barbolet, Tegan Adams and Matt Thomson is available for download at www.policyalternatives.ca. This study is part of the Climate Justice Project, a five-year research initiative of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives and the University of British Columbia.