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Shifting Nova Scotia’s Food System for a Sustainable Future

Transforming food systems by increasing the availability of local plant-based foods to improve human, animal and environmental health.

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Lead Applicant Organization Name

Friends of Humane Society International (FHSI), a national registered charity that works to protect animals.

Lead Applicant Organization Type

  • Small NGO (under 50 employees)

If part of a multi-stakeholder entity (i.e. team), provide the names of other organizations and types of stakeholders collaborating with you.

Colleges and Institutes Canada – Large NGO Dalhousie University – Research and applied learning institution Acadia University – Research and applied learning institution Nova Scotia Community College – Pan-provincial education system Dr. Sara Kirk and her colleagues – Dalhousie School of Health and Human Performance and the Healthy Populations Institute (HPI) Amy Symington and Kathleen Kevany – Celebrity chefs and authors Dr. Margaret Robinson – M’kimaw scholar and author Keith Williams – Native researcher and food systems educator Annapolis Valley First Nation Webster Farms, WA Grain and Pulse Solutions – Indigenous farmers and processors

Website of Legally Registered Entity

www.friendsofhsi.org

How long have you / your team been working on this Vision?

  • 1-3 years

Lead Applicant: In what city or town are you located?

Monteal, Quebec

Lead Applicant: In what country are you located?

Canada

Your Selected Place: what’s the name of the Place you’re developing a Vision for?

The province of Nova Scotia (NS), which is 55,284 km²

What country is your selected Place located in?

Canada

Describe your relationship to the place you’ve selected.

We selected Nova Scotia (NS) because it is a province with high food insecurity, limited access to affordable nutritious foods, a higher-than-average incidence of preventable diseases, a culturally diverse population, and 13 Mi'kmaq First Nations communities.The UN Special Envoy for Food Security reported that too many Canadians cannot afford to adequately feed themselves (De Schutter, 2012). This is especially true in NS where some households do not prioritize food security over other financial needs, such as housing and school fees (Pinstrup-Andersen, 2009). 

Diets in NS are primarily composed of imported foods, despite the capacity of provincial farmers and fishers to support the local communities (ACT for CFS, 2015). The cost of nutritious food has increased in the province by about four times since 2002 and households with income assistance or minimum wages cannot afford to eat healthily (Blair, Lord, MacAulay, & MacLeod, 2014; Newell, Williams, & Watt, 2014; Williams et al., 2012). We know that a nutritious diet is a huge factor in overall health and that healthy eating habits can reduce the incidence of disease. NS residents report having a diagnosis of heart disease, diabetes, and cancer more often than the rest of the Canadian population (D’Angelo-Scot, 2014). 

NS is an important place for our Forward Food program because many educational institutions are already engaged in work from farm to table and back to farm, and overall institutional structures are conducive to implementing province-wide food system improvements. Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) is a coordinated education system with 13 campuses that are interested in offering more healthful food.Our interdisciplinary team already has strong local connections with many members already actively working on food systems and in healthcare and higher education food provision and is well-positioned to improve NS’s food system.

Describe the People and Place: Provide information that would be helpful for an outsider who has never been there and may have no context about this Place to better understand the area.

The Eastern Coast of Canada, where NS is located, has a rich history. It was long inhabited by diverse First Nations Communities, many of which have been lost over time through colonization and genocide. Early settler inhabitants came from Scotland, Ireland, France and over subsequent centuries. Many Nova Scotians pride themselves in taking care of the land, of each other and the future. NS is a province of great vitality, welcoming spirit, and rich diversity. People in NS have a long history of eating food from the sea. In addition, Nova Scotians consume beef, pork, chicken wildfowl, and deer. There is also a wide array of locally grown fruits and vegetables. Despite this, the Canadian Journal of Public Health, NS had the highest levels of food insecurity in Canada in 2011 and 2012, particularly among post-secondary students. Despite a tradition of eating local foods (especially from the ocean) farmers and fishers face high production costs and low market prices and contend with declining support for small markets due to the decline in the province’s economy (ACT for CFS, 2015).

What is the approximate size of your Place, in square kilometers? (New question, not required)

55284

What is the estimated population (current 2020) in your Place?

971395

Challenges: Describe the current (2020) and the future (2050) challenges that your food system faces.

NS’s food-related challenges are:

Environment: The greatest current and future threat to NS’s natural environment is climate change – in fact, according to a Natural Resources Canada report, NS is particularly sensitive to the impacts of climate change compared to other regions of Canada. Animal agriculture (including fish farming) has been identified as one of the biggest contributors to climate change. 

Diets: Generally, diets in NS consist of highly-processed foods with an emphasis on animal products, especially seafood. Diets are generally lacking in fruits, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based sources of protein. This is undoubtedly a contributing factor to the fact that Nova Scotians experience a higher prevalence of cardiovascular diseases, cancers, and diabetes. 

Economics: Of all Canadian provinces, NS had the second-lowest per capita income as of 2016 (Conference Board of Canada, 2016). In 2018, the unemployment rate in NS was 7.5%, compared to 5.8% nationally (Government of Canada). Both of these realities make it more difficult for residents of NS to have consistent access to affordable, nutritious foods. By 2050, the problem will likely be even worse, as climate change reduces the prevalence of fresh, local food items.

Culture: Consumer food choices are generally driven by taste, then cost, then convenience and finally nutrition. Consumption of animal products has increased over the past several decades, partly due to the ability of industrial agriculture to supply large quantities of relatively cheap animal products, and partly due to aggressive marketing by the meat, poultry, dairy and egg industries. At the same time, consumers are more removed than ever from where their food comes from and face serious declines in food literacy and cooking skills. If trends continue, by 2050 consumers will be poorly prepared to make healthy choices and to prepare foods at home.

Technology: Within the food system, technology has been used to expand consumer choice; improve food manufacturing, transport, and storage; and increase the shelf life of processed products. The result is that consumers have an unprecedented array of food products to choose from, which are often highly processed and sold at prices that do not reflect their true cost (in terms of their impact on the environment or human health). As consumers continue to prioritize convenience above all else, our reliance on highly processed foods may worsen between now and 2050.

Policy: Historically, public policy has contributed to this problem. For example, the government currently protects most animal protein industries to ensure a consistent market and good prices for these products. An exception to this is Canada’s new Food Guide, developed by the national health agency and released in 2019, which encourages Canadians to consume more plant-based foods, especially plant proteins.

Address the Challenges: Describe how your Vision will address the challenges described in the previous question.

Our program aims to increase the consumption of nutritious, sustainable plant-based foods among Nova Scotians through partnerships with institutional food providers.

Environment: By encouraging more plant-based food options to be prepared, served and consumed at institutional settings across NS – especially the biggest health-care and education institutions – we will reduce the environmental burden of the province’s food system. This will support the province in improving its food security and sovereignty. 

Diets: By training chefs at institutions in NS on why and how to serve and market delicious new plant-based options that appeal to everyone, we will help consumers make better, healthier, more sustainable food choices. We will bring residents’ dietary choices more in line with the new Canada Food Guide, which will help to improve the health of the province’s population and prevent increases in the rates of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and diabetes. Our healthy eating workshops for elementary, high school and continuing education students will empower individuals to make better, more informed dietary decisions. Finally, NSCC will also include more plant-based cooking in their culinary programs, and support indigenous communities in accessing culturally-appropriate plant-based dishes.

Economics: Increasing the availability of affordable, delicious plant-based options at the institutional level will help to drive down the price of plant-based ingredients so that more NS residents can choose to eat plant-based more easily, no matter their income.

Culture: Given current consumer interest in consuming more plant-based foods and the new Canada Food Guide’s emphasis on plant proteins, the timing of this intervention could not be better. We will deliver educational programming geared towards food service professionals, educators and consumers to discuss healthy, sustainable food choices, and improve food literacy. Complimented by the greater availability of plant-based meal options at healthcare and educational facilities across NS, this will help to shift choices towards food options that are healthy, tasty, cost-effective and convenient.

Technology: Amidst an unprecedented array of processed food items to choose from, we will encourage residents of NS to eat more whole, unprocessed plant foods, thus returning to a more wholesome and healthy way of eating that relies less on highly processed, pre-packaged food items. Mobile apps such as Froogie, which was created in NS and encourages fruit and vegetable consumption in youth, will aid in education and shifting behaviours.

Policy: We will work collaboratively to develop institutional policies that promote and support healthy, sustainable eating. This will support the implementation of the new national Canada Good Guide, and reward local farmers who produce sustainable and nutritious plant-based foods.

High Level Vision: With these challenges addressed, now provide a high level description of how the Place and the lives of its People will be different than they are now.

Environment: A greater emphasis on plant-based eating has slowed the environmental degradation associated with food production, helping the province mitigate the risks associated with climate change. NS has started growing more nutritious food locally, improving food security and sovereignty. 

Diets: Many of NS’s residents will have switched to diets that put plants at the centre of the plate, and every major public institution in the province will serve a variety of delicious, affordable plant-based options. The incidence of the biggest lifestyle diseases – cardiovascular diseases, cancers and diabetes – has begun to decline. 

Economics: A greater proportion of households in NS are food secure and more families have access to fresh, nutritious foods, especially fruits and vegetables. The province imports less food, relying instead on a growing local farming industry. 

Culture: Cultural attitudes towards food and eating have shifted to view plant-based dishes more favourably. People continue to make choices based on taste, affordability, convenience, and nutrition, but favour whole plant foods for their enjoyability and health and sustainability benefits. 

Technology: Research has made progress in improving food yields and nutritional content, reducing food waste, recycling by-products from the agricultural sector, and creating new value-added products that are convenient but minimally processed. Tools like apps and games have increased education and awareness about food choices. 

Policy: NS’s largest healthcare and education institutions have introduced policies to ensure a substantial portion of the food they offer is whole food plant-based. NS has become a model for regional implementation of the new Canada Food Guide.

Full Vision: How do you describe your Vision for a regenerative and nourishing food future for your Place and People for 2050?

Our dietary choices have far-reaching consequences, impacting our health and well-being, the future of the planet, and the welfare of the animals we share it with. Plant-based and plant-forward diets have an incredibly transformative potential to shift our overarching food system. Our vision for 2050 is a food-secure NS that emphasizes local production and consumption, promotes and rewards ecologically conservative agricultural practices, is rich in employment opportunities, has reduced its food-related carbon footprint and experiences lower rates of noncommunicable diseases. In this future, NS residents have come to view plant-based eating more favorably, and they have access to convenient, affordable and delicious options at colleges, universities, health-care facilities and more across the province.

The obstacles to this vision are multi-fold and must be addressed through an interdisciplinary approach. Right now, most consumers, in NS and elsewhere in Canada, believe that animal products are necessary to be healthy and that eating mainly plants is boring, unsatisfying and difficult. By enabling the institutions that serve the most meals in NS to provide delicious plant-based dishes to their customers, we will shift attitudes among foodservice professionals and consumers so that they see how easy and delicious it is to eat well. We will supplement these efforts with educational workshops, research and innovation in agricultural production and improved culinary arts curriculums at colleges. 

Our initiative is a collaborative effort between several community partners in NS, Colleges and Institutes Canada and Forward Food, with each member contributing significant experience with food and agriculture, often specific to NS. Forward Food will provide free education and training programs, mainly for institutional chefs but also for educators and consumers, on how and why to prepare delicious plant-based dishes, from breakfast through dessert. Since many chefs never learn how to make entirely plant-based dishes, this training is essential in enabling them to create and serve plant-based menu options that appeal to a wide consumer base.

The actual menu changes will be led by the Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC), and many of the province’s universities. Collaboration across the Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA) is also expected to expand through this project. These institutions will work with their suppliers to source more plant-based ingredients (fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, pulses, nuts, seeds and herbs, and spices), which will gradually lead to more regional production of these items. Wherever possible, these institutions will procure food items locally, thus supporting local agriculture and encouraging regional production of whole, plant-based foods. 

Researchers at NSCC, Dalhousie University, Acadia University and elsewhere will lend their knowledge and expertise in implementing and evaluating the success of our intervention. They will also advance research related to sustainable agriculture so that farmers in NS can maximize their outputs and minimize their waste and emissions. Our team members from indigenous communities will contribute their expertise to improving overall food system sustainability, with an emphasis on increasing the availability of healthier versions of traditional recipes. Webster Farms will supply beans and other locally grown plant-based items for the culinary trainings and new menus.

Colleges and Institutes Canada and NSCC will lead our team in developing educational content for adults in continuing education programs, students in elementary and secondary schools, and chefs in training in the culinary arts programs offered by NSCC. We will also host a plant-based foods leadership summit to bring together food service professionals across the province.  

We will address the challenges we have identified in the six key areas:

Environment: It is widely recognized that sustainable diets are an essential component of climate change mitigation. “The necessity for the transition to sustainable diets is unlikely to fade… That the scale of the task is immense must not deter us, nor deflect our resolve to help societies to face what needs to be faced” (Mason & Lang, 2017). By shifting diets in NS to be sustainable by 2050, the province will have been better able to meet its climate and emissions targets.  

Diets: Canada’s national government has provided citizens, families, and organizations with new science-based food guidelines. This project will demonstrate what it would look like if an entire province aligned itself with the new Food Guide and worked creatively across sectors to shift to sustainable food systems. NS will have gone beyond the national Food Guide, which says what to eat and why, to provide skills, encouragement, reinforcement, community support for healthy eating. Ideally, other provinces will have followed suit.

Economics: In 2050, NS will have a food environment in which healthy options are given priority and made more affordable, due to increased plant food availability, a greater number of people working in agriculture or food processing/distribution, and better incomes for food system labourers. There will be fewer subsidies for unhealthy items, like animal proteins and highly processed foods, as well as more income-generating opportunities for young people and organizations like Webster Farms in particular. More graduates will leave school being well-versed in food system sustainability and plant-based nutrition and cooking, and thus better prepared to enter this industry. 

Culture: People’s attitudes toward food will have changed significantly. Besides viewing plants as the central part of a diet that is healthy for humans and the environment, there will be greater overall food literacy and appreciation of indigenous foods and approaches to nutrition. The province’s diverse population will have embraced foods from other cultures, having stepped away from more classic French cuisines to enjoy international dishes that include more plants. NSCC’s Culinary and Tourism programs will incorporate more sustainable food teachings as part of their core curricula, enabling graduates to better understand their role in maintaining and continuing to improve food production and consumption in NS. 

Technology: Through applied research conducted by team members at NSCC, Dalhousie University, Acadia University and elsewhere, the agricultural sector in NS will have benefitted from new supportive technologies that increase efficiency and business opportunities. NSCC's Applied Environment and Agriculture Technology Research Lab (EATLab) in particular will have helped farmers reduce risk and become more productive. Schools and families will have used award-winning mobile apps like Froogie, which has already been created by WeUsThem and Dalhousie University’s Dr. Sara Kirk, Canada Research Chair in Health Services Research. 

Policy: Canada’s Food Guide, released in 2019 and updated regularly until 2050, will have continued to be evidence-based and recommend that Canadians consume more fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, pulses, nuts, and seeds. Residents and institutions in NS will have aligned their menus with the latest edition of the guide, and plant-forward eating will be the norm, making NS a good example of the Food Guide’s implementation. Chefs at educational and health-care institutions will have become skilled at offering delicious, appealing meals that are fully or predominantly plant-based. A greater emphasis on local sourcing for three decades will have helped farmers to shift production to more sustainable crops and reduced the need for subsidies for the meat, poultry, dairy, eggs and fish industries. NSCC will have followed the lead of reputable institutions like Harvard University, which has long promoted plant-based eating. 

Ultimately, our interdisciplinary and collaborative project will empower individuals to make evidence-informed dietary decisions within a food system that is more conducive to nutritious and environmentally friendly eating habits. Implementing this kind of project in NS will improve food system sustainability within the province, and also provide a way forward for other communities since this region is exemplary of the challenges that exist globally in regard to creating sustainable, healthy food systems. It is particularly relevant to other areas of Canada, where our new national dietary guidelines have yet to be implemented.

Every time we sit down to eat, we have the ability to make choices that are healthier for our bodies, more cost-effective for our wallets, more sustainable for the environment, and more kind towards non-human animals. By focusing on plant-based foods, we can meaningfully address climate change, reduce death and disability due to lifestyle diseases, and improve food access and security. Within just a few decades we can significantly change the way chefs and consumers think about food, and develop a healthier, more sustainable food system.  

How did you hear about the Food System Vision Prize?

  • Website

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