The grande valse food

La grande valse alimentaire

Guillaume Levasseur Archives The Duty
More vegetables pass customs to exit the country via Quebec to enter.

In Québec, as elsewhere, the pandemic has thrown new light on the notion of self-sufficiency in food. Can we eat local all year round ? At which point our industry is dependent on export ? The first text of a series of three.

Quebecers eat asparagus from Peru, fish from Thailand, raspberries from Chile. The rest of the world eats pork in the Bas-Saint-Laurent, lettuce, Montérégie, lobster from the Magdalen islands. How the Belle Province does it matter in this great waltz international food : is she a leader or follower ?

The answer might come as a surprise. For the past few years, Québec exports more food products than it imports. In 2019, the Québec sold $ 8.8 billion of international products. In the same year, the providers from the province bought for $ 7.5 billion abroad.

Thus, in spite of its harsh winters and its lack of agricultural labour, Quebec has a positive sales performance in terms of power. “I think we have what it takes to feed themselves at Quebec,” says Patrick Mundler, a professor of agriculture and food at Laval University. In the worst case, there would be some aisles too full in the grocery store, and some rather empty. “

At the beginning of the pandemic, the question of food self-sufficiency was talking. Slaughterhouses closed due to outbreak of COVID-19, of the migrant workers could not pass the borders. The prime minister, François Legault, expressed his concern. “We may not have not thought that there is a month or two, but one of the essential services, this is to feed the population,” he said on 3 April.

This sudden awareness is not part of the recent trend. For the past thirty years, government policies had concentrated primarily on the export, ” observes André Mousseau, president of the greenhouse Producers in Quebec (PSQ). “Try to find a federal program for the local : it does not exist. We wanted to go look for the “US dollar” “, he says.

Thus, imports and exports grew strongly in Quebec. Between 2009 and 2019, they have increased respectively from 55 % and 95 %. The increased globalization in the food sector does, however, not the province.

“The markets are much more integrated than they were, raises Daniel-Mercier Gouin, a retired professor of agricultural economics. The international trade is growing. And consumer tastes have greatly diversified. The lawyer has almost become a product of daily consumption. “

Playing the game of free exchange, in Québec, which creates a certain ” dependence on exports “, says Mr. Mundler. “When you destine to international markets, you are constantly competing with the best, he noted. Except that this competition is strictly the economic point of view : it does not take into account the environments destroyed, the exploitation of the workforce. “

The food balance sheet of the Quebec depends also of course of interprovincial trade. The imports and exports referred to above relate only to food through canadian customs in Quebec. A part of the production takes the path of other provinces, and revenues from elsewhere in the country lead in the plates of Quebec.

All in all, when one considers the price paid by the distributors, about half of the food consumed in the province come from Quebec, a little over a quarter of the rest of Canada, and a little less than a quarter elsewhere in the world.

In this great choreography of the food, would there be any faux pas to avoid in order to promote local consumption ? If Quebec exports so much food, why are there so many foreign products on our shelves ? In the context of this series, The Duty is maintained with the connoisseurs of the food industry and went on the field in order to see more clear.

Crab, lobster and pork

The case of the fish, in particular, is of concern. Each year, the fishermen of the East of the province to capture shots worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Three-quarters of the loot are composed of snow crab and lobster, mostly for export. In parallel, it is often difficult to find local fish at the grocery store.

The explanations for this imbalance are purely economic, believes Michel St-Pierre, who has been deputy minister of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food from 2003 to 2008. “In the 1970s, it was the slump in the fisheries industry. When the producers have understood that there was an interesting market for the crab, it was madness. “

“When a fisherman has the choice between something that’s worth a lot, or small fisheries diverse — even if it is good for lovers of fish, of which I am, the choice is obvious,” says the one who has dedicated his career to the development of agri-food.

Another interesting case is that of the pig. In Quebec, it produces four times more than it consumes. In 2019, the province has exported $ 1.8 billion worth of pork abroad, more than 700 million in China and Japan.

If this industry is living in several small villages in quebec, it ties up resources that could otherwise help to feed the local people. Mr. Saint-Pierre is a lamentable fact that nearly 70 % of the best land in Quebec is used to grow maize and soya for pig feed, so that you could easily bring these grains to the West.

“This is a land where we could produce a lot of other things to diversify our agriculture,” he said. As legumes, which will increasingly replace the animal protein. It is a very strong alternative, but there’s no product with almost no. “

Thumbs up to the greenhouses

Even in vegetables, the province claims a positive balance. More vegetables pass customs to exit the country via Quebec to enter. Not surprisingly, these movements are closely linked to the seasons. When the producers of the south of the United States are struggling with the great heat of summer and lack of water, their canadian colleagues benefit from the favourable conditions. The roles of the seller and the buyer alternate as well throughout the year. Since this model is based on a never-ending, trucking, there’s no way to eat locally year-round ?

In terms of vegetables, the greenhouses are a solution. In the wake of the pandemic, Hydro-Québec announced in mid-July the expansion of its program of reduced rates of electricity for the greenhouse producers. If the Régie gives its green light, the discount will now be applicable to heating, and not only to lighting. In addition, the serristes using a low-power electrical will now be eligible.

The greenhouse Producers in Quebec were calling for such changes for years. “My producers are telling me that it would be self-sufficient if we doubled our surfaces. Tomatoes, lettuce, peppers : there would be no more need to import, ” explained André Mousseau, of the QSP. It would be possible to achieve such autonomy, in four years, he believes, with investments of about a billion dollars to build new greenhouses.

For other actors of the world of food, food self-sufficiency is through education. “The report to the seasons is completely dead !” exclaims Elizabeth Cardin, co-owner of the restaurant Manitoba to Montreal, which is dedicated to the local cuisine. To eat locally in the winter, it is necessary to break the ” myth of boiled potatoes and turnips too cooked “, she believes.

“When it is the harvest season, I buy fruit and vegetables in large quantities and I transforms of three, four different ways “, she explains. Even if the restaurateur recognizes that everyone does not have the time to put in cans to ferment or freeze food, she is “fascinated of how easy it is to” eat local throughout the year.

The farmer, activist and author Dominic Lamontagne noted the importance of consumer choice. Regardless of the effect that choice has on the self-sufficiency in food and the nutritional quality, the majority of people buy food at the lowest prices, grieves-t-it. “This is not a message the fun to give, but it is necessary to consider the other side of the coin : it is the fault of the people, but they also have the possibility to change things. “

Tomorrow : a visit to a factory of freezing and the potential of this method of conservation.

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