Joined up food policy to create a healthy, just and sustainable food system
The Canadian government announced (June 2019) pieces of a national food policy (see news posts, right hand column). As currently presented, it is substantially incomplete. How are we going to create a Canadian food system that promotes health, justice and sustainability? It will require many changes to all aspects of the food system from farm inputs to food retailing to the design of our kitchens and bathrooms. And many kinds of interventions will be required to solve the current problems. The COVID-19 emergency is accentuating many of these problems, and many decision makers are recognizing food system vulnerabilities, but will they act to create more resilience?
Why focus on government policy? This web site has a primary emphasis on government policies and instruments as significant ways to bring about change. This approach rests on the idea that the state has a significant role in ensuring the health of the population, equitable access to resources, and the long term sustainability of our society. It contradicts the view of many that the market can be the primary provider of such services, and significant literature on this site will document the failings of the market. Others believe that mobilizing from outside the state is more viable, with a focus on oppositional politics and the construction of alternative food systems and economies. From my experiences and reading of the literature, a blended approach is required but the policy change component has received less attention than social mobilization and construction of alternatives, so I’ve chosen to focus on government policy.
My other motivation is the circumstances of alternative and community food initiatives in Canada. Many have demonstrated positive impacts, but for relatively small numbers of people. The organizations running such initiatives struggle to scale them up and out to have a wider transformative impact. There are several elements to this struggle (eg., competitive pressures from the dominant firms, skills, resources, consumer demand), but a significant one is the policy system. Typically, initiatives at a certain point run into government policies and rules that block their evolution or they recognize how government incentives could advance what they're doing. Many organizations do not have the skills and resources to properly engage in policy advocacy and this impedes their development. As discussed under Get Started, Policy advocates, even organizations focusing on government policy are struggling to be effective for a wide range of reasons addressed on this site. All this slows down the change process, wastes limited resources, and creates frustration for those working in the alternative sectors and this can lead to individual burnout and organizational failures.
On this site, we present the detailed changes that will be required to create a better food system. You choose how to pursue your interests by clicking on the buttons above or below.
How is this site organized?
The site is a work in progress (many sections have not yet been written, many links have yet to be connected), but there are four different ways to access solutions on the site (see the menu titles at the top). You can start with the goals of a joined up food policy and then following the links in the change areas under each goal. You can also access the solutions according to their stage of transition (this part is under construction). The core government instruments are a third avenue, as this section provides information on existing instruments and the proposed changes to them. The fourth entry point is through the policy actors.
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We will regularly update the content to fill gaps in our understanding. When you come across a section in development, feel free to make suggestions on sources, ideas and strategies pertinent to that section and we’ll work them into our research or identify others that might undertake the inquiry. You'll see 3 symbols when segments are still in development:
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A note on the research approach: normative inquiry
This site represents a normative research approach, or "what could be" research. It is different from research on "what is", the dominant focus of inquiry. I look for patterns, using Diesing's (1972) pattern method, a variant on grounded theory. A key challenge of normative work is validity, since the traditional methods of validation used in positive inquiry, statistics and mathematics, are not usually pertinent. I rely on triangulation from different sources and face validity, convergent or discriminant validity, catalytic validity, and whether the work is useful and illuminating (Reason and Rowan, 1981). Face validity is whether it looks right to the discriminating observer. Convergent or discriminant validity is defined by Reason and Rowan [1981:240] as .. “when a number of measures which purport to measure the same thing all point in the same direction". Contextual validity addresses how any piece of data fits in with the whole picture. Catalytic validity identifies whether individuals or groups can take action based on the study resu1ts. Finally, the work should be useful and illuminating, providing some clarity on a topic that was not previously apparent.
This approach runs overtly counter to the status quo. It is rooted in a belief that what we are doing currently is wholly insufficient and that we can mobilize the skills and resources to create something better.
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