Canadians Shifting Choices at the Grocery Store Amid Climate Change Realities [Op-Ed]

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Headlines are dominated by reports of wildfires in Maui, Hawaii, Yellowknife, and the raging fires in Kelowna. These wildfires pose a significant threat to British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, a region that contributes a remarkable 25% to the province’s total agricultural output. The Okanagan Valley plays a pivotal role in the cultivation of apples, peaches, pears, and various tree fruits, serving as the primary producer. The process of replacing trees in the event of damage can take several years, which is unsettling news for both farmers and consumers alike.

The media inundates us with increasingly frequent and destructive natural disasters, making it clear that climate change has become a major player in our reality. But how does this affect our dietary choices?

In partnership with Caddle, our Lab conducted a nationwide study, surveying 5,450 Canadians about their eating habits measuring the impact of climate change on their perceptions of food security. The results, based on a survey conducted just a few weeks ago this year, are revealing and raise questions about the growing influence of climate change on what we put on our plates.

The survey reveals that more than half of Canadians, a staggering 52.3%, are either very concerned or extremely concerned about climate change. This concern is not unfounded, as 73% of Canadians believe that climate change is affecting weather patterns, resulting in higher temperatures in Canada.

When it comes to food production, 61% of Canadians believe that climate change is impacting Canada’s ability to produce food. However, it is heartening to note that despite these concerns, 60.3% of Canadians believe that we will continue to have access to the same foods, regardless of climate-related changes and patterns. This suggests a certain confidence in the resilience of our food system.

Yet, Canadians are worried about food availability. Nearly half, or 47.1%, fear that climate change will affect food availability. Some have already noticed these changes, with 40.1% of Canadians reporting alterations in the availability or variety of certain foods during the summer over the past few years.

What is even more intriguing is that environmental concerns are now influencing the dietary choices of some Canadians. Nearly 38% of them often or always consider the environmental impact of their food choices during the summer. This demonstrates a gradual shift toward a more sustainable diet, one that is conscious of its environmental footprint.

However, there are regional disparities across Canada. Quebec, with 48.1%, has the highest percentage of respondents who consider the environmental impact of their food choices during the warmer months, while Saskatchewan, with only 26.4%, has the lowest percentage. These differences may be attributed to various factors, including regional dietary habits and awareness of climate issues. This is where urbanites’ proximity to agriculture varies greatly from one province to another.

In conclusion, the findings of this study clearly indicate that Canadians are becoming increasingly aware of the connections between climate change and their diet. The natural disasters that regularly afflict our country make us reflect, and environmental concerns are increasingly influencing our dietary choices.

It is crucial to note that the growing awareness of climate issues in our diet does not necessarily mean we should panic or completely give up meat, for example. The transition to a more sustainable diet can be gradual, by choosing environmentally friendly options, when possible, while still enjoying the foods we love. Small actions, such as buying local and seasonal produce and reducing food waste, can have a significant impact on reducing our ecological footprint. The key is to stay informed, make informed choices, and support more sustainable agricultural and food practices, which benefit both our health and the planet.

Sylvain Charlebois
Sylvain Charlebois
Dr. Sylvain Charlebois is Senior Director of the Agri-Foods Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University in Halifax. Also at Dalhousie, he is Professor in food distribution and policy in the Faculty of Agriculture. His current research interest lies in the broad area of food distribution, security and safety, and has published four books and many peer-reviewed journal articles in several publications. His research has been featured in a number of newspapers, including The Economist, the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Wall Street Journal, Foreign Affairs, the Globe & Mail, the National Post and the Toronto Star.

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