When it comes to food, how self-sufficient is Québec?
While buying local is being encouraged more than ever, many Québecers are keen on the idea of food autonomy. Here's an overview of the situation.
It seems that more and more Québecers are embracing a lifestyle that involves eating fresh, organic, and local food. Some are involved in community gardens, some have their own gardens growing herbs and vegetables at home, while others are starting to raise chickens in urban areas. Jardinage Québec (in French) has lots of great project ideas if you're interested in planting a garden.
Although eating and buying local are all the rage, there's been a lot of talk recently about food autonomy in Québec. What's it all about? Here are the broad strokes.
What is food autonomy?
There's a tendency to associate food autonomy with the production of fresh fruits and vegetables, and rightly so! But because Québec has four seasons, it's a lot harder to get fresh, local corn, strawberries, and broccoli year-round. According to Jean-Martin Fortier, a Québec farmer and writer, 40 percent (in French) of our fruits and vegetables come from the United States.
That said, the idea of food sovereignty is much broader. Practices such as baking your own bread, cooking more, and canning also foster food autonomy. The concept encompasses everything we eat, from milk and cheese to meat and processed foods. Indeed, agriculture takes many forms in Québec. So just how self-sufficient do we want to be? For instance, are we prepared to stop eating products that can't be grown here, like bananas? Are we willing to reduce the amount of food we import? Québec is already self-sufficient when it comes to certain items, such as pork, beer, and dairy products.
In short, a society that's food autonomous could be seen as one that's no longer dependent on imports to meet its needs and that can provide all its citizens with year-round access to fresh, quality food.
From field to table
In addition to traditional agriculture, Québec has many farms that rely on greenhouses. However, this method is very energy-intensive and requires a significant investment, putting it out of reach for many farmers.
Despite this, you can get locally grown strawberries and tomatoes even in January, thanks to the innovative efforts of Québec farmers!
The entire agri-food sector in Québec has a role to play. Whether it's in terms of seeds, equipment, cultivation, production, processing, distribution, or wholesalers, it's the whole system that makes it possible to provide Québecers with quality, local products. That's why the Fonds invests in the agri-food industry: to back local businesses that help Québec grow and prosper—starting with what's on your plate. It supports businesses such as Semican Atlantic, Dauphinais, Les Brasseurs du Nord - Bière Boréale, La trappe à fromage and Cunico.
Cooking and distilling local products
In a similar vein, raising the profile of locally grown food also contributes to food autonomy. Whether you think of restaurants like Au Pied de Cochon and Manitoba in Montréal, La Buvette Scott in Québec City, or L'Eau à la Bouche in Gaspésie, whose seasonal menus revolve around local cuisine, or Menaud gin, made with wheat and rye from the fields of Isle-aux-Coudres, it's a trend that's been gaining ground over the past few years—not to mention another way to gain direct access to local products.
Québec and healthy agriculture
Agriculture and innovation are of the utmost importance in Québec. That's why the Centre-du-Québec region's Victoriaville CEGEP is home to the Institut national d'agriculture biologique (INAB) (in French), where you can find agriculture-related teaching, research, technology transfer, and incubation activities all under one roof. It's the largest centre for organic agriculture training and research in Canada!
No autonomy without food security
Food autonomy is also a question of ensuring access to fresh, quality products for everyone, including vulnerable populations. Food security is only achieved when no one goes hungry, regardless of social or economic status. Therefore, ideally we would reduce, or even stop, the importation of food, but also combat the widespread dependence of citizens on food banks, which work hard to provide food to those in need.
For example, in 2019, before the health crisis, Québec's food banks received more than 1.9 million (in French) requests for assistance. The Regroupement des cuisines collectives du Québec defines food autonomy as "individual and collective empowerment aimed at access to quality food and better control of the food system that cannot be achieved without a public education approach." That's why we all need to work together to improve access to healthy, local food over the long term.
In light of the COVID-19 crisis, the Fonds has made several cash donations to organizations that help those in need, including Cuisines solidaires, a La Tablée des Chefs initiative.
Although many people in Québec support the idea of food autonomy, it poses a number of challenges. It has to be done gradually, notably in terms of labour, production capacity, and greenhouse energy costs.
Québec is capable of accomplishing great things, but it also faces climate limitations. To truly achieve food autonomy, we would have to eat fruits and vegetables only when they were in season, which would mean changing our consumption habits. Aim to eat products that are in season and, when you have a choice, choose to buy local food rather than imported products.