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Photo by Andrea Wiseman/Courtesy of Blake Hall

Five foods you’d think we could produce enough of in Canada

By Pieta Woolley

It’s impossible not to feel hope and optimism when reading Lois Ross’ compelling story in this month’s Observer, “The New Agrarians.”

Amidst the massive decline in farms in Canada, and the imminent retirement of more than half of the country’s remaining farmers, she profiles several millennials taking up the hoe.

Indeed, growing food for personal and commercial reasons is a surging ethical movement — one that’s present in every community in Canada, whether rural or urban. Producing things locally and caring for what’s produced is clearly one key to a sustainable future.

Nevertheless, if you look closer at the state of food production in Canada, and you’ll see the vast mountain that these young, ethical agrarians have set out to climb.

Between 2011 and 2015, the amount of food Canada imported from other countries — mostly the U.S., Mexico and China — grew from $34 billion in 2011 to $47 billion in 2015. That represents a 39 percent increase in imports over a short period of time. Some imports come by relatively clean rail. Others come by truck and container ship, spewing such vast amounts of climate change-inducing gases. So the good-willed recycling of your breakfast sausages’ styro-and-cello wrapping may be a futile final act.

But if you, like me, need darkness to see the light, the latest Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada import report is a good place to start.

Here are five foods that Canada could clearly be growing at home instead of being imported in record volumes.

1. Milk & Cream

Imported in 2015: $32 million

Growth in five years: 42 percent

Considering how much milk we drink, imports don’t account for a huge percentage of dairy consumption. Still, given Canada’s vast prairies and farm reserves near urban areas, you’d think that we could pull off 71 litres per person each year in the country.

2. Fish fillets and other fish meat

Imported in 2015: $718 million

Growth in five years: 30 percent increase

“A Mari Usque Ad Mare” is the Canadian National Motto. A more resent, cheeky adaption is “from sea to sea to sea,” including the Arctic Ocean, which coincidentally is full of delicious Arctic Char. In other words, we have oceans. And lakes. And fish. Fisheries and Oceans Canada is working hard to prevent another collapse, but considering that we exported $340 million worth of fish in 2015, perhaps we could spare a few fillets for the home team? 

3. Oats

Imported in 2015: $4 million

Growth in five years: 25 percent increase

Canadians just aren’t eating as many oats as we used to. Back in 1982, 96 percent of all oats produced in Canada were eaten in the country. Now, 69 percent are exported, according to the Prairie Oat Growers Association. That still doesn’t explain why Canada imports oats, though.

4. Eggs

Imported in 2015: $204 million

Growth in five years: 323 percent growth

Canadians are eating more eggs than ever, at 19.4 dozen per person every year. That’s due in part to the falling popularity of cereal for breakfast (sorry, oats!), egg marketing and a shift to protein-centred diets. But a curious $62 million worth of eggs leaves the country each year.

5. Water and ice

Imported in 2015: $93 million

Growth in five years: 25 percent

In what’s perhaps the most bizarre nugget in the exports report, Canada is importing water — and ice. We export $23 million worth of both per year.

Author's photo
Pieta Woolley is a writer in Powell River, B.C.
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