This post introduces the recently published Histoire sociale/Social History special issue “Agricultural, Food, and Fuel Markets in Canada, 1860s–1990s,” edited by Jodey Nurse and Ben Bradley. This issue also includes Nurse’s article, “Canada’s Rotten Egg Scandal: The Politics of Food in the 1970s.”
Late last month, five federal ministers hosted a National Supply Chain Summit in order to discuss the “challenges, strategies, and next steps” for strengthening Canada’s supply chains during a time of significant stress.1 While it will be some time before any outcomes of the summit can be assessed, it did establish a national Supply Chain Task Force to consult with industry experts about what can be done to mitigate supply chain pressures in the future.2 And while the Bank of Canada purports to be “keeping [its] eyes on inflation,” rising food costs and other household expenses are causing considerable worry for Canadians with pinched budgets.3 Indeed, as food prices approach record highs, experts warn of social unrest on a worldwide scale.4
I’ve spoken in the past about how the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered both an interest in and fears about our present food systems (see here), but recent events, including border protest blockades and rising inflation, have caused heightened anxiety about the stability of our supplies and markets.5
“While this pandemic and the resulting events are exceptional in many ways, familiar questions are being asked about the complex systems that exist to ensure Canadians receive their goods, particularly their everyday food.”
While this pandemic and the resulting events are exceptional in many ways, familiar questions are being asked about the complex systems that exist to ensure Canadians receive their goods, particularly their everyday food. Broader questions about how our food systems function and whose interests they best serve have been raised. Some argue that, although imperfect, our present systems have served us well. Others note the serious labour shortages in agricultural and food sectors that have intensified during the pandemic and impeded complex distribution networks in an increasingly globalized food system.6 Another concern is how fewer reserves of food exist because “just-in-time” logistics have been privileged as measures of efficiency and competitiveness.7 Moreover, many believe that the current pandemic has highlighted how Canadian society tends to undervalue the labour of those in our food systems and rely on global trade to the detriment of the local production of important foodstuffs.
I would encourage readers to read more about the history of agricultural and food supply chains in order to understand the roots of many of today’s issues. There is nothing entirely new in Canada about fears over the resiliency of our supply chains, or concerns over rising food costs, producers’ and manufacturers’ challenges in getting their products made and to market, or broader questions about the power dynamics involved in the commercial exchange of foodstuff.
“There is nothing entirely new in Canada about fears over the resiliency of our supply chains, or concerns over rising food costs…”
In the recently published special issue of Histoire Sociale/Social History “Agriculture, Food, and Fuel Markets in Canada, 1860s-1990s,” vol. 54, no. 111 the issues above and many more are considered by a range of social historians studying agricultural, food, and fuel markets and marketing in modern Canadian history. Many articles in this special issue provide useful assessments of how changing patterns and practices of production, distribution, and consumption have had significant social, economic, and environmental impacts on the local, provincial, national, and international scale. How markets have been structured in the agricultural, food, and fuel sectors have had important consequences for farmers, processors, distributors, retailers, and consumers. Understanding the context of these choices and some of their outcomes provides valuable food for thought as we continue to navigate and shape contemporary food policy debates.
1 “Minister of Transport announces a National Supply Chain Summit,” Government of Canada, Transport Canada, December 13, 2021, https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2021/12/minister-of-transport-announces-a-national-supply-chain-summit.html (accessed February 1, 2022); and “Government of Canada to hold a news conference following National Supply Chain Summit,” Government of Canada, Transport Canada, https://www.canada.ca/en/transport-canada/news/2022/01/government-of-canada-to-hold-a-news-conference-following-national-supply-chain-summit.html (accessed February 1, 2022).
2 “National Supply Chain Summit earmarks the start of continued dialogue,” RealAgriculture, January 31, 2022, https://www.realagriculture.com/2022/01/national-supply-chain-summit-earmarks-the-start-of-continued-dialogue/ (accessed February 1, 2022).
3 Toni Gravelle, “keeping our eyes on inflation,” Bank of Canada, December 9, 2021, https://www.bankofcanada.ca/2021/12/keeping-our-eyes-on-inflation/ (accessed February 4, 2022).
4 Ana Swanson, “Food Prices Approach Record Highs, Threatening the World’s Poorest,” The New York Times, February 3, 2022, https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/03/business/economy/food-prices-inflation-world.html (accessed February 4, 2022).
5 For example, see “Alberta ranchers worried about border protest rattling cattle sector,” CBC News, February 3, 2022, https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/calgary/blockade-alberta-cattle-impact-1.6338177 (accessed February 4, 2022); “US-Canada border protest forces freight rerouting,” The Journal of Commerce online, February 2, 2022 https://www.joc.com/trucking-logistics/truckload-freight/us-canada-border-protest-forces-freight-rerouting_20220202.html (accessed February 4, 2022), and Stephanie Thomas, “Coutts, Alta., border blockade estimated loss of $220M economic activity: industry experts,” CTV News, Calgary, February 3, 2022, https://calgary.ctvnews.ca/coutts-border-blockade-estimated-loss-of-220-million-economic-activity-industry-experts-say-1.5766906 (accessed February 4, 2022).
6 “COVID-19 and the food chain? Impacts and future research trends,” LogForum 16, no. 4, (2020): 475-85.
7 Kim Moody, “Why it’s high time to move on from ‘just-in-time’ supply chains,” The Guardian, October 11, 2021, https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2021/oct/11/just-in-time-supply-chains-logistical-capitalism (accessed February 1, 2022).
Latest posts by Jodey Nurse (see all)
- New Book – Cultivating Community: Women and Agricultural Fairs in Ontario - April 13, 2022
- Cultivating Community: Women and Agricultural Fairs in Ontario – Book Launch - February 16, 2022
- Not Without Precedent: Debating Changing Food Systems - February 8, 2022