What are the SDGs?
In September 2015, all the member states of the United Nations – including Canada – adopted 17 goals: the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The goals aim to address social, economic and environmental challenges. By bringing together both developed and developing countries, the SDGs are a roadmap to achieve better and more sustainable futures for all. The timeline for achieving the goals is 2030 – less than nine years away.
The SDGs have been criticized and praised (see here section on intersectional critiques) for a variety of reasons. While imperfect, these goals are among the best global frameworks for guiding action we have. For those working towards systemic change, the SDGs represent objectives to which we can hold our governments accountable, provide a yardstick for progress, and act as a common ground as we work for change in partnership with actors across sectors, departments, and levels of government.
With close knowledge of the needs in communities as well as the levers for change, civil society organizations are uniquely poised to help Canada meet these goals.
What is the food movement’s role?
Many of the SDGs are directly or indirectly relevant to food systems.
The Food Policy for Canada, announced in 2019 states that its actions will support meeting the SDGs, and that its forthcoming measurable targets and sub-targets towards meeting its outcomes will be aligned with the SDG framework. A Data Hub by Statistics Canada tracking Canada’s progress towards the SDGs can be found here. Currently, Canada’s progress towards meeting the Sustainable Development goals has stalled. In fact, experts have criticized the Government of Canada for its lack of progress so far. We also believe that to truly advance the SDGs with respect to food systems, a people-centred food system includes immediate action to stop land destruction and end labour exploitation in Canada and abroad in the name of profit. Instead, subsidies should be redirected to support local, small-scale food producers, the diversification of protein supplies, and agro-biodiverse agricultural systems that protect nature. See our blog on COP26 on how food systems, the SDGs, and international conventions relate.
Food Secure Canada’s Engagement with the SDGs
Food Secure Canada is working on a collective process to identify, analyse and document food systems approaches and innovations towards meeting the Sustainable Development Goals, by influencing Canadian food policy. We are not only looking at how governments can meet the SDGs, but also, how can the SDGs be used as a framework to advance civil society goals and the public interest. This includes using the SDG framework to run a non-partisan campaign during the 2021 federal election 2021 (Eat Think Vote). We organized and mobilized communities around to use the SDG framework to think about how food systems can be more inclusive through:
- Addressing the root cause of food insecurity
- Building resilient local food systems,
- Supporting Indigenous food sovereignty,
- Seeking equity and justice for all workers along the food chain,
- Ensuring everyone is at the table and
- Advancing a school food program in Canada.
We are collecting and proposing approaches towards meeting the SDGs through three priority areas for food systems change in Canada. They relate to ‘Equitable access to healthy, sustainable food’; ‘Indigenous food sovereignty’; and ‘Healthy school food’. FSC is working with individuals and organizations across Canada to advance the SDGs through these three action areas, respectively.
Healthy School Food
FSC is working with the Coalition for Healthy School Food to identify how a universal, healthy Canada-wide school food program can advance Canada’s progress towards the SDGs. The Coalition for Healthy School Food is also looking at school food programs around the world to understand lessons learned and best practices for Canada. FSC produced a research paper titled School Food and the Sustainable Goals: A Pathway to Meeting Multiple Goals and Targets. The Illustration below on School Food and the SDGs was inspired by the findings of this research.
Equitable access to healthy sustainable food
FSC is working with a number of different communities and individuals around increasing access to healthy and sustainable food. We are especially focused on looking at how folks living on a low income access sustainable food and on the experiences of Black and racialized communities, and Indigenous peoples. This includes a research project to update our 2019 Sustainable consumption for all report, which will provide important insights to equitable access to food post-covid. We are also actively partnering with initiatives and movements like the Black Food Sovereignty movement.
Indigenous Food Sovereignty
Plenty Canada, entrusted by the Indigenous Circle, is implementing the Indigenous Food Sovereignty dimension of the work. Plenty Canada is in relation with more than 180 Indigenous communities. This self-determined leadership by Plenty Canada is in line with Food Secure Canada’s commitment to working in ethical space, enacting decolonization, and advancing reconciliation.
Leave no one behind
The SDGs are explicit about the obligation to leave no one behind. We cannot meet the SDGs without taking into account the unique needs of groups of people that are made vulnerable by interconnected and intersectional oppressions, both nationally and globally. As the UN states, while the world has made progress in reducing poverty, lowering child mortality rates and improving access to clean water, hundreds of millions of people continue to live in poverty. “As the poorest and most marginalized people slip further behind, inequalities have been pushed to new heights between and within countries.”
Here in Canada, it is vital to acknowledge systemic inequalities, which disproportionately affect Indigenous peoples and people of colour and their right to healthy, just, and sustainable food. For example, those who identify as Indigenous or Black are far more likely to face food insecurity in Canada.
While food was often used as a tool of colonization, it has the potential to be a tool for healing and asserting Indigenous food sovereignty. As we work towards the SDGs, we must aim for not only food security, but food sovereignty of Indigenous communities, which is inseparable from access to land and water. In addition to being a principle named in the Food Policy, the calls to action of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada is another tool that should be used in reaching not only the SDGs, but also the goals as set forth in the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP).
The SDGs can only be met if the rights of Indigenous peoples to respond to their own needs for adequate amounts of healthy, culturally appropriate foods in the forests, fields and waterways, are fully addressed.
Aligning the Food Policy with SDG targets and indicators
The Food Policy for Canada already highlights four SDGs and a selection of associated targets. It is important to note that these are indicative; part of the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council’s mandate is to suggest and develop measurable targets, in alignment with the SDGs.
The old adage “we measure what we value and we value what we measure” reminds us that the choice of targets and indicators is political, not neutral. The kind of information and knowledge that measurements can highlight or render invisible in food systems is discussed in this CAFS article “Food Counts: Food systems report cards, food sovereignty and the politics of indicators.”
Civil Society Engagement essential to meeting the SDGs
Across Canada, individuals and organizations are leading their communities to work towards goals such as zero hunger, good health and well-being, responsible consumption and production, and climate action. In 2020, FSC spoke with leaders from across the country to highlight their work:
- Anan Lololi, AfriCan Food Basket, Toronto, ON
- Sarah Kim, Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, Vancouver, BC
- Rebeka Frazer-Chiasson, Rogersville, NB
- Wade Thorhaug, Qajukturvik Community Food Centre, Iqaluit, NU
Later in 2023, we held a virtual consultation with 140 participants working in food, creating an avenue for voices from across the movement to send feedback to Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada on the Food Policy for Canada. The Sustainable Development Goals provided a framework for these conversations.
Some of this work is funded by the Government of Canada’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Funding Program. The opinions and interpretations on this page are those of Food Secure Canada and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.