Over the past year, Canada has faced persistent food insecurity, despite our wealthiest sector in society continually increasing in wealth. Food insecurity disproportionately impacts those in vulnerable sectors of our local and national communities, such as those in homeless populations. With 5.8 million Canadians currently experiencing food insecurity to some degree, this phenomenon is likely to persist, with some experts expecting a 5-7 percent increase in rates of food insecurity in 2023. Rising food prices are a main cause of the problem, increases which we have steadily witnessed in recent years. Moreover, general cost of living increases, including rent and housing prices, combined with low levels of income, are perpetuating inequality.
In Saskatchewan, a food development centre has been testing the use of fermentation to battle food insecurity. Fermentation occurs when microorganisms break down food products into simple compounds, and this process has been initiated locally and commercially throughout history. Saskatchewan is home to this technology in Canada, due in part to the large fraction of national agricultural land that it accounts for. Fermentation allows waste products from agricultural production to be transformed into usable food. The quality of the food remains high for foods preserved in this manner, and in fact, fermentation is known to alter the proteins in select foods, making them more easily digestible. Fermented foods can also introduce functional microorganisms, promoting gut health. Therefore, the process has the ability to enhance benefits derived from food products which are not normally absorbed when they are consumed naturally. This technique, while relatively new in North America, has been in conversation in Africa as a way to battle food crises. Here, insects are fermented to meet the demand for animal protein and are available as a nutrient-rich, cheap food option.
An additional benefit of fermentation is its ability to diversify the selection of foods which last by lengthening the shelf life of a range of dietary options. This can lead to greater choice for individuals who are battling food insecurity. Moreover, as fresh and organic foods tend to be the most expensive, consumers may be able to access fermented foods at a lower price than they are used to.
This so-called “bio-manufacturing” business is expected to grow by massive proportions. Some estimates state that the sector has the potential to expand to a $4 trillion industry over the next decade. To house this transition, a facility was established in Saskatchewan which is over eight thousand square feet.
While the technology sounds infallible, this tool also has the ability of producing negative health impacts due to the ability of fermentation to lead to starter cultures of harmful bacteria. These microorganisms can lead to toxins and illnesses, highlighting that greater research needs to be conducted to reduce the strain that fermentation may cause on local healthcare systems. Moreover, the process of implementing fermented foods into local societies and grocery stores may prove itself to be politically strenuous. The will for change must come from individuals who need assistance, and greater research should be done to ensure that the technologies are prepared for the influx of foods which may be altered through this process. Moreover, as a result of the fact that media and advertising plays such a large role in the products and technologies that we use, the way that this technology is marketed will inevitably play a role in its success. It is noted by those in the field that gaining political trust and funding is a necessary hurdle regarding the future of the sector.
While it is just the beginning for the sector in Saskatchewan, the implementation of this technology is a step in the right direction when it comes to battling food insecurity. With greater recognition, experimentation and resources, fermentation has the ability to change the lives of many Canadians and global citizens suffering from poverty and a lack of access to diverse, affordable and accessible foods. The celebration and advancement of these technologies politically can allow for change to occur on a national, and hopefully even international level.
Photo: “Wheat,” July 30, 2014, by Andrew Gustar, via Flickr. Licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.
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