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Hopes for 2013

I hope everyone had a safe and lovely holiday season! We had a great time, and I was finally able to take a breather from what has been a tremendous flurry of craziness at work.

The next step after New Year’s – resolutions – represents a chance for everyone to voice what they hope will come to pass this year: lose some weight, save some money, declutter the house, what have you. Rather than doing my typical navel-gazing, I’m turning the resolution thing around for this post and will list what I hope to see happen in the Winnipeg food world in 2013.

Framed.

There’s already been one huge announcement: the owner of Hermano’s announced today that he is in negotiations to reopen the revolving restaurant at Fort Garry Place. Better yet, the restaurant – which will be appropriately called Prairie 360 – will focus on locally-grown, Manitoba-inspired food. I am so thrilled about this, and am sending all the good vibes I can at this venture. They hope to open the new restaurant this fall.

I have a few other things that I’m hoping for this year, as well:

Backyard chickens and bees. First, I would like the city of Winnipeg to come to a sane and progressive decision about allowing residents to keep backyard chickens and bees. To be honest, I think the chicken people are sort of their own worst enemy (really? taking a chicken to a council meeting? That’s step 2 in “how to alienate your audience”…), but I’m hoping that their report is well-received. Having clear suggestions on how to limit the impact of backyard chickens and bees is a great step, and I’m looking forward to seeing how council responds.

More food trucks. Last year, Bartley Kives of the Winnipeg Free Press did a great piece on the state of food trucks and other street eats in Winnipeg. He detailed why there weren’t many (oppressive regulations) and explained what the city was doing to actively discourage them (shutting down stands operated by established eateries). On the other hand, other cities, like Toronto and Vancouver, have been actively encouraging food trucks with festivals and a expansion of licenses issued. We saw some growth this past summer, with new entries like Pimp My Rice, Stuff It and Little Bones. I’d love to see this continue in 2013.

More accessible restaurant inspection reports. This is a topic I’ve been advocating for a while, so I’m not holding my breath on seeing any action on it anytime soon. Basically, I’d like to see a more consumer-friendly way to tell how well your favourite eatery has done on its last inspection. My gold standard is the way Toronto does it: colour-coded cards that must be displayed near the front entrance, showing a green, yellow or red card based on their inspection. (The Toronto site also explains, in plain English, the difference between a minor infraction and a major infraction. Manitoba doesn’t make that clear at all.)

However, the province recently took over the inspections for the city of Winnipeg, and they are now in charge of reporting closures and convictions. They do seem to be keeping up with it a bit better than the city did, but I would also like to see if the diner down the street passed with flying green colours. The ball is in their court on this one, and 2013 would be a great year to make this change.

Those are my big three. There are a few others, but I’m interesting in what you think. What would you like to see this year?

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Food Policies Make an Appearance on Election Platforms – Finally!

It was with a great deal of excitement – and a healthy dose of cynicism – that I read that all of the major parties have included food and agriculture concerns as part of their platforms.

Lettuce.

Food is such an incredibly important part of everyone’s lives and community, and I’m heartened that the parties are finally taking note of this. However, I also agree with Rod MacRae, who was quoted in the Globe and Mail on why these issues are finally getting some attention:

On Monday, the parties will hash out their respective policies at a debate in Ottawa. But one food policy critic said none of the platforms are detailed enough to take seriously.

“None of them really link the food story to health care that well, or to social-policy reform,” said Rod MacRae, a professor at York University who is one of Canada’s foremost experts on the subject. “What they’ve done is pick the low-hanging fruit – the things that are more part of the public consciousness right now.”

And really, when you look at the details of the platforms and plans, that’s really all we see: the superficial issues surrounding Canada’s food policy – or rather, it’s lack thereof. Over the past several years, people have become more and more aware of where their food comes from, and they are starting to see the problems in the current food system. All the political parties have done is grab what big issues have gotten the most traction, and wiggled them into their platforms.

The Globe article has a summary of each of the major parties’ platforms, or you can go to each party’s website and read their full platform for yourself. It’s a lot of good stuff, although each party has areas where they’re a bit weak. For example, the Greens have a lot of good ideas, but seem to be missing some of the “big picture” stuff like the challenges of feeding a growing nation with a dwindling number of farms, while the Conservatives seem to be focused on “big agriculture” while ignoring the needs of the consumers who want choice.

Here’s what I’d like to see addressed in more detail:

Education components for food strategies. While the Liberals and the NDP talk about educating students on healthy food choices, no party goes into much detail about education for all Canadians, not just the young. While I agree that the basis for change is best approached through young people, food issues are complicated and people have a difficult time understanding the issues involved. Federal assistance in the development of local food policy councils, such as those in Vancouver and Toronto, would assist people in understanding the issues that local farmers, producers and consumers are facing.

Consumer choice. The boondoggle with Peak of the Market and Manitoba’s potato growers last spring and the ongoing fight for raw milk producers shows that consumers want to be able to choose and eat the foods that they want. In some cases, the government steps in and tells them, “No, you can’t.” A little less nanny-state and a little more flexibility for non-mainstream foods (like raw milk and cheese) would be nice. I’m also not fond of the condescension that is sometimes leveled at consumers when it comes to food safety.

Food safety. This ties in nicely with my previous points. An educated consumer is a safe consumer, because they are able to make smart decisions about their food choices. But at the same time, food needs to be produced in a safe manner. I was highly irritated during the Maple Leaf Foods listeriosis outbreak in 2008 when it seemed that the CFIA and Health Canada were turning around the problem onto consumers with their trotted out tag lines that listeria can be killed by heating the food. We saw the same thing when E.coli cropped up in spinach in 2006. I don’t know about you, but I typically don’t microwave my deli meat or thoroughly cook my spinach salad before eating it. Letting large food corporations monitor their own food safety alone (or having announced inspections, which might as well mean no inspections at all) strikes me as silly. The Conservatives, the Liberals and the Bloc all promise more funds for the CFIA.

But again, my cynicism is showing – no matter who is elected, I doubt there will be any substantive change. It’ll remain up to each individual to do their research and make smart decisions about what they eat, at least until government really gets it.

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