|Anita Stewart hosts a barbecue in Elora last August. The annual World's Largest BBQ, a national celebration of Canadian food that she started in 2003, was held on the weekend.|
The fifth annual World's Longest BBQ, the uniquely Canadian invention of Elora food activist Anita Stewart who parlayed a one-time beef-industry support event into a national celebration of Canadian food, was held on the weekend.
It offered a time to reflect on how the world has changed since the first Canadian food sizzled on grills across the country in 2003.
First, the local food movement has finally taken off. Canadians are beginning to grasp what Stewart's been advocating in earnest for nearly 20 years — that is, support Canadian food because it's good, and it helps keep farmers farming.
It also leads to some modicum of food security, which is coming to the fore everywhere.
Food is likely just the first of many more buy-local campaigns; the agri-food sector is but one of the industries affected by imports.
And the angst is growing. An Australian researcher, for example, was recently quoted as saying cheap imports could put 20 per cent of farmers there out of business in 10 years.
He encouraged the government to "support local development, local farmers, local food producers and help local food communities to maintain their competitiveness against food imports."
With the public rallying around local food, governments have been given a mandate to put some resources into campaigns such as Ontario's $12.5-million Pick Ontario Freshness program, announced earlier this summer.
Local food initiatives generally support regional agri-tourism, too, which is held out as a way to enhance rural revitalization. And the barbecue has also attracted the support of Farmers Feed Cities!, which in part mirrors the barbecue's intent to raise awareness of farm issues and support for farmers.
Even though the world's longest barbecue spans time zones and borders, it's still a local event.
Stewart, who co-ordinates the barbecue from her website at http://www.flavoursofcanada.ca/ invites participants to share their Canadian food stories online, with other Canadians across the country and around the world. So no matter where you were for your barbecue experience, you can be part of a local event — and maybe win a $900 gas grill.
The wet blanket in all this is a certain faction of the U.S. cattle industry. Stewart started the barbecue campaign to help beef producers who were hammered by the U.S. border closure when a lone case of mad cow disease was discovered in Alberta.
That devastated beef farmers here, who normally ship many of their cattle to the U.S. for further processing, much to the chagrin of some U.S. beef farmers who don't like the competition — and have their own version of local food.
Those U.S. farmers drew every legal and political weapon they could to maintain the closed border, and despite the border reopening in 2005 for many beef products, the American faction is still active. It continues to press the United States government for a total ban of Canadian beef, given what it calls lax inspection here and a recurrence of more mad cow disease cases over the past five years. It likely won't succeed, but it likely won't go away, either.
And neither will the lingering effects of the border closure. Even as recently as a few weeks ago when Better Beef cut 300 jobs at its processing plant in Guelph, it was blaming in part the hangover from the mad cow crisis.
The fact the World's Longest BBQ has survived and actually grown in the face of some of these tough industry challenges is all the more cause to celebrate. Congratulations to Stewart for her perseverance and foresight on behalf of Canadian food and farmers.