New Food Policy Council in St. John’s Will Help Create a Stronger Food System

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food policy Ritqy1SWhen you scarf down a bowl of cheerios on your way out the door in the morning, you probably don’t think about the journey those crunchy little Honey Nut Os took before landing in your bowl.

And you may not consider the family that grew and harvested the coffee beans you’re enjoying in your morning cup of Joe or how those beans made their way thousands of kilometres across the world for you to brew.

A lot of planning and policy decisions affect the food on your table and how it got there, and every governmental department, from agriculture and economic development, to transportation, education, and health and community services are involved. This month, a new food policy council will launch in St. John’s to connect these government departments, and help create local food policies.

Dr. Catherine Mah is helping create the agenda for the new council. Working in community health at Memorial University’s school of medicine, Mah understands the impact of food on a healthy community. She says the new council will help all policy makers work together to create a healthier community. “Because food is divided up into so many silos, it’s actually quite difficult to make a really resilient and healthy food system when policy is happening in different compartments,“ Mah says. “So, the whole point of having a food policy council is to have a forum where people come together to identify those food connections and identify potential actions.”
Mah says a big focus for the council here will be transportation and roads because they’re a crucial link for how we get food … or don’t, as was the case this winter when there was a limited supply of fresh produce because ice conditions prevented ships carrying food from getting to the province. “Transportation policies define our food,” Mah says. “There’s federal aspects to how the shipping companies come into the port, there’s provincial policies in terms of the land use, and there’s municipal policies in terms of planning the roadways and those kinds of things.”

“Most policies are not developed with food in mind. Zoning is not for food access. Zoning is developed for all sorts of other reasons from economics to politics. By brining food back into the equation for how we plan communities, we can actually plan them in a more healthy and sustainable and a more vibrant way.”

And with so many new developments going up around the city, Mah says planners have a lot to consider. “Most policies are not developed with food in mind. Zoning is not for food access. Zoning is developed for all sorts of other reasons from economics to politics. By brining food back into the equation for how we plan communities, we can actually plan them in a more healthy and sustainable and a more vibrant way.”

Mah says the new council will also work with governments to help maximize land use. “Land use and zoning policies define what we can use our land for. So, renegotiating or reworking the land policy would be something very important for a food policy council to have input on because they can comment on how that lands’ policy can be designed in a way that’s promoting a food friendly and healthy community.”

There are currently more than three hundred food policy councils in North America connecting these sorts of dots across their food system. The St. John’s food policy council was endorsed by the city of St. John’s and developed by the Food Security Network of NL. The council is made up of government and community members as well as food industry players and will launch the end of this month.

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Amy Stoodley

Amy is a journalist working in St. John's for both the CBC and The Overcast

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