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Anita Stewart
Anita Stewart
March 26, 2019

Local food transcends commodities…but there’s something special about fresh local food, such as fresh fruit and vegetables. 

As with packaged or processed local food, fresh local food beats imports and supports nearby growers. 

But more, it has unmatched visual and seasonal appeal. 

So, if you were to choose a day for a nation-wide celebration of local food, to honour those who produce it, wouldn’t it make sense to do so during the growing season?

That’s what Elora-based culinary icon Anita Stewart thinks – and has put those thoughts into action for the past 15 years, with Food Day Canada. “There is nothing more patriotic or more environmentally responsible than feasting on our northern culinary bounty,” she says. “It’s about culinary sovereignty.”

And every year, she leads the charge, inviting Canadians to celebrate local food on Saturday of the long weekend in August.   

“It’s a magnificent time of year,” she says. “Local food abounds; summer is at its often-steamy height and Canadians are ready to party while honouring those who feed us so very well.”

In the past couple of years, another well-intentioned citizen has been making an effort to recognize local food nationally. That’s British Columbia NDP MP Wayne Stetski, the former mayor of Cranbrook, who wrote Bill C-281, an act to have a national local food celebration on the weekend before Canadian Thanksgiving. 

Stewart supports the spirit of Bill C-281. Eating locally has been and always will be a great idea, she says. Having a Local Food Day makes what she calls “infinite sense” and provides producers and processors there with a potential competitive advantage. 

But she’s pushing back at the proposed timing. October is not the height of local food. For the most part, harvest has ended. By that time, some regions in Canada have experienced their first frosts, if not snow. 

It’s such a contrast from warm and sunny August, when Canadian fruit, vegetables and other such fare are everywhere.     

So Stewart’s campaigning to have an amendment to Bill C-281 that would designate Saturday of the long weekend in August as Canada’s national local food day. 

She says this date better reflects the reality of our local food supply in Canada without the risk of “conflating” a national local food day with another major Canadian holiday, Thanksgiving.

This is more than a turf war for Stewart. She got the ball rolling for local food back in 2003, when she created the World’s Longest Barbecue. At the time, it was to support the beleaguered beef industry, which was getting hammered with BSE and struggling with consumers. The response was tremendous, and really helped shape the local food movement in this country. For this and other efforts to put Canadian food on the map, Stewart was recognized with the Order of Canada.

There’s no one more qualified in Canada to suggest the proper date to recognize local food nationally.

And she says it should be the Saturday of the August long weekend.

 “It’s become crystal clear that’s the day when Canadians are buying -- often at farmers’ markets -- cooking and sharing the local harvest,” she says. “This is not my invention; this is reality. It was a local food day in every remote town, every small village and every urban centre across Canada even if it hadn’t yet been named officially.”

And now that it’s officially on the table, she doesn’t want it the country to blow it. 

Neither do some other well-known Canadian culinary leaders who are joining her in petitioning for a change, including chef Michael Smith and Shanna Munro, president and CEO of Restaurants Canada. Stewart is pushing hard to get Canadian senators to speak in favour of the August date as well, and has visited with them about it on several occasions lately, when they were visiting with agriculture and food leaders at institutions such as the University of Guelph, where she serves as Food Laureate. 

“It’s my hope that wisdom will prevail and that we can continue to empower one another, encouraging real Canadians, including all our Honourable Senators, to put Canada on the menu,” she says.

If anyone can do it, it’s Anita Stewart.

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Submitted by Owen Roberts on 26 March 2019