Food Freedom Day— Canadian Food Privilege Is Inconsistent

By Matt McIntosh

It’s pretty hard to beat food. We need it, we like it, and it can be an incredibly significant part of who we are.

As any shopper knows, though, food can also be expensive.

The good news for us Canadians is our national food dollar isn’t actually that high. Despite what our grocery bills suggest, we have access to some of the highest quality – and cheapest – food on the planet.

Today, February 8, is “Food Freedom Day” in Canada. Determined each year by the Canadian Federation of Agriculture, “Food Freedom Day” is when most Canadians have made enough money to pay for their yearly food bill. Where the event lands each year is determined by comparing Statistics Canada data on average individual income ($32,464) and yearly food expenditures ($3,497).

Based on these numbers, the Federation determined Canadians spend approximately 10.7 per cent of their income on food.

Now, 10.7 per cent might seem like a sizeable chunk of your wallet, but it’s an astoundingly low number when analyzed in a wider geographical context. In a 2015 report by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, citizens of France – another highly developed western country with a particularly glorious culinary history – spend 13.2 per cent of their annual income on food, compared to 9.1 per cent for Canada. Canada and France may not have taken the top spot on the USDA’s list – the United States consistently takes first prize there – but both were still far into the upper echelons.

That same study, for instance, shows the Portuguese spend 17.3 per cent of their income on food, the Russians a whopping 28 per cent, and Nigeria, almost unbelievably, at 56.4 per cent. A similar 2013 report from the Congressional Research Service also put these countries in very similar positions.

Granted, the USDA and Congressional studies were created using different data than what the Federation used for Canada’s Food Freedom Day, but the point is the same – in the global scheme of things, only spending one-tenth of your income on food is pretty good.

The flip side of this is, of course, that Food Freedom Day hinges on what the average Canadian has to spend on food. When viewed within the confines of our own individual experiences – whether it be a trip to the market or a restaurant – food can certainly seem expensive. Indeed, Canadians spend so much money on food that affordability and rising costs are consistently ranked as one of our country’s top public concerns.

As can be assumed in a country as vast and rugged as Canada, different communities also experience vastly differing food issues. Canadians in the far north, just as one example, can spend a small fortune on everyday products such as milk and fresh produce. Contrast that to the experience to those of us living in Ontario’s deep south, and there’s little left in the way of meaningful comparison.

Food Freedom Day helps us understand and appreciate what we have as Canadians. We have choice galore, high quality, and relatively cheap products, and systems that help farmers, processors, retailers and everyone else maintain what is, essentially, a food-privileged society.

Food Freedom Day serves as a reminder that we are a truly lucky bunch. Many folks both abroad and in our own country do not have the same luxuries, and understanding the reasons behind that disparity is never a bad thing.

Solutions can’t be found if problems have no context, after all.

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