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Tackling Climate Change Through Equitable and Resilient Food Systems

An illustration of hands picking up fruits in a bowl
An illustration of hands picking up fruits in a bowl

Globally, climate change is one of the most pressing social issues and it’s deeply tied to poverty, economic prosperity, justice, and politics — though often our conversations about the environment can be one-dimensional. Conventional food systems are a huge driver of greenhouse gas emissions and biodiversity loss. In Canada, most of our food is produced by large-scale farms, or travels great distances to reach our plates. This contributes 30 to 35 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions, mostly from agriculture, energy consumption, and food waste. If Canada is going to reach its climate change goals, we must transform our food systems and ensure they become both equitable and resilient.

What are equitable and resilient food systems?

Food systems are considered equitable when they provide healthy, culturally relevant food to all, offer good (and safe) jobs, and help create strong communities. Most Canadian food systems aren’t equitable, and one in eight households in Canada is food insecure. Many racialized communities are disproportionately affected, with roughly 28 per cent of Black and Indigenous households experiencing food insecurity in comparison to 11 per cent for white households.

Most Canadian food systems are not equitable, and one in eight households in Canada is food insecure.

Food systems are considered resilient when they can withstand disruptions and continue providing food, but the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted just how vulnerable our inequitable food systems really are. Food production employees, especially migrant workers, who were forced to work (and sometimes live) in unsafe working conditions, were at higher risk of developing COVID-19. Outbreaks closed processing plants and farms, leaving people out of work, while border closures caused shipment delays and grocery stores faced intermittent
shortages.

Fighting climate change with equity and resiliency

Both equity and resiliency can be partly addressed by investing in local, sustainable food systems, which in turn support climate goals. Many Canadian charities and grassroots groups are making this needed change, like the more than 40 charities that are included in Unite for Change’s Land and Food Justice Fund. The Fund includes charities that are helping young, local farmers access arable land so they can focus on low-emisssions, ecological food production. It also includes organizations that are creating community food programs dedicated to supporting marginalized communities and increasing locally sourced foods in climate-friendly ways, advancing food sovereignty within Black and Indigenous communities, and creating programs that reduce food waste. The Global Alliance for the Future of Food estimates that continuing these practices worldwide could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 10.3 billion tonnes a year.

With support, these organizations can continue their critical work and help transform and strengthen food systems.

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