5 myths about food self-sufficiency
The variety on our plates undermines food self-sufficiency.
Local consumption is popular, and everyone is dreaming of Quebec's food self-sufficiency. How far is this possible? The Rumor Detector reviews some myths surrounding this concept.
Autonomy or self-sufficiency?< /h4>
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many disruptions in supply chains. Prime Minister François Legault promoted local food in 2021, even giving birth to a new concept, that of “food autonomy”. The idea, still poorly defined, would partly take up the definition of food sovereignty, which stipulates among other things the right of peoples “ to define their own food and agricultural systems ”, as opposed to an industrial and globalized system.< /p>
As for food self-sufficiency, it is defined as “ the capacity of a State to produce as much food as its population consumes ”, that is to say all the food consumed by its inhabitants — a more restrictive concept than food autonomy.
1) Quebec could quickly become self-sufficient? No
In Quebec, complete self-sufficiency would be utopian, according to the Jean-Garon Institute — named after a former Quebec Minister of Agriculture who had himself promoted such self-sufficiency. However, Quebec is well and truly self-sufficient in several product categories — notably eggs, poultry, dairy products — and even surplus for products such as maple, cranberries, pork.
< p>As Patrick Mundler, from Laval University, explained in 2020, Quebec produces twice as many calories as its population consumes. But as our agricultural system is primarily based on export and specialization, we cannot overturn everything by snapping our fingers. The Carbon show team from Radio-Canada reports that, since the 1950s, we have gone from 150,000 farms in Quebec, which produced three-quarters of the food in subsistence agriculture, to 30,000 farms.
< p>Since 1989, Quebec has chosen to emphasize the export of pork, which means that the production of grain corn, which is used to feed these animals, also occupies the upper hand in the fields: approximately 80% of the oilseeds and grains grown in Canada are intended for animal feed.
Adopting more subsistence agriculture would take time and changes in the laws: to encourage diversification in the size of agricultural enterprises, but also to facilitate access to lots of different sizes, and to provide access to preferential prices for agricultural enterprises. electricity to facilitate greenhouse cultivation. Not to mention the challenges posed by the shortage of labor to reap what we sow, and the many free trade agreements already signed.
2) Eating local costs more? Not necessarily
The myth that Quebec products are more expensive dies hard. However, a recent report prepared by the Laboratory of Analytical Sciences in Agri-food of Dalhousie University, in collaboration with Aliments du Québec, reports that for 70 % of the products analyzed, Quebec foodstuffs are at the same price, or even less. expensive than those elsewhere. The report analyzed the prices of 134 local products and 431 comparable products, displayed in January and February 2022. Even though it was winter, two-thirds of the local food categories were at such advantageous prices, if not more, than equivalent products.
It should be noted, however, that the products evaluated included foods prepared in Quebec, which may deviate from the perception of a local food, and that in certain categories, the products compared were limited because of the season (in particular fruits and vegetables ). The inflation of the last few months (caused by the increase in energy costs and the conflict in Ukraine, among others) could, however, have an impact on the price of foodstuffs, both Quebec and international.
< h3 id="h-3-the-grocery-basket-includes-50-non-Quebecois-products">3) The grocery basket includes 50% Quebec products? No
When we talk about local food, we often hear that 50% of the average grocery basket is made up of Quebec products. However, the researcher Patrick Mundler figures rather at 35 % this proportion. It must be said that the concept of “Quebec food” is variable. The organization Aliments du Québec offers certifications for foods whose main ingredients grow in Quebec, but also for foods processed in Quebec. The Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food of Quebec (MAPAQ) and the Union of Agricultural Producers of Quebec (UPA) also count as Quebec food a product from elsewhere, but processed here.
4) Eating local lacks variety in Quebec? No.
It doesn't just grow potatoes, onions and carrots in Quebec (even if the potato is the champion)! It's true that the choices are more plentiful in the summer, but farmer Véronique Bouchard talks about “ seasonal ” diversity when it comes to local produce.< /p>
The vegetables that occupied the most area in hectares in Quebec in 2021 were sweet corn, green peas, beans, carrots and lettuce. On the fruit side, blueberries, apples, cranberries, strawberries and wine grapes took the top spot.
There is also work to be done to discover forgotten and under-consumed local products: for example, maritime resources or indigenous plant species that can replace imported products (such as sweet clover instead of vanilla, or immature strawberries, rhubarb or sumac for the lemon).
5) Eating local is more ecological? No
In a text published in The Talk in 2020, agro-environmental professor Serge-Étienne Parent, from Laval University, questioned the fact that a local and organic shift is necessarily better for the environment. Long before him, a 2008 study estimated that the distance our food travels contributes only 11% of greenhouse gas emissions. To really reduce your footprint, you have to focus on the content of your plate, to favor plants rather than products of animal origin.
In conclusion: could we become completely self-sufficient?
There is no simple answer to this question. Quebec was virtually self-sufficient until the 1950s, but the variety on our plates was much more limited. Would the consumer be ready to adapt? On the other hand, breaking away from global production and distribution chains is theoretically possible, but Canada could find itself isolated if a crisis hits it in turn – fires, heat waves and droughts, floods, diseases, etc.< /p>
Find out more:
Agriculture: Is Canada self-sufficient?< /em> (Radio-Canada, June 2020)
Food: Can Quebec be self-sufficient? (Radio-Canada, October 2020)