Sustainable Diets, Population Growth & Regional Food Production: A Case Study of Waterloo Region, Ontario
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The industrialized food system poses significant human health challenges, while simultaneously compromising planetary boundaries that we depend on for human flourishing. In 2019, the Canada Food Guide was updated to represent a more nutritious and environmentally sustainable diet, consistent with the 2019 EAT-Lancet Report’s Planetary Health Diet recommendations surrounding the human and planetary health nexus. Both recommendations notably put less emphasis on meats and dairy, and more emphasis on plant-based protein and fresh vegetables and fruits. One way to encourage the transition to more nutritious food consumption is to develop and enhance the regional food environment. The food environment determines in part what the population eats, and in turn, drives demand. ‘Food environments’ are created by social environments and are the physical, social, economic, cultural, and political factors that impact the accessibility, availability, and adequacy of food within a community or region (Rideout et al., 2015). They are often responsible for affecting how consumers make food decisions. COVID-19 exposed vulnerabilities in our industrialized just-in-time system, including challenges in food security and optimal nutrition as import-dependent foods faced risks in supply due to labour and supply chain disruptions. Increased political attention on local and regional self-sufficiency at regional and national scales may offer a solution to enhance resilience within socio-ecological systems. An optimum nutritional environment (ONE) assessment bridges nutritional needs with environmental sustainability through regional planning. For this thesis, a case study foodshed analysis of Waterloo Region (WR), Ontario, was conducted in order to understand the potential for regional sufficiency in nutrient-dense food (according to the 2019 Canadian Food Guide guidelines). The nutritional requirements were then compared to the local production capacity for the population in 2020 and the projected population in 2040 and 2060. The research objectives were (1) to estimate the quantity of locally grown vegetables, fruits, legumes, and whole grains needed to meet the Region of Waterloo population’s optimal nutritional requirements in 2020, 2040, and 2060; (2) to estimate how much of these healthy food requirements for the WR population could realistically be produced through regional agriculture by the year 2040 and 2060. This study used Canadian databases to quantify and predict the opportunities and potential for WR to meet its growing population's nutritional needs within regional boundaries. The results show that consumption and production levels in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and plant-based protein are insufficient in 2020, 2040 and 2060. There were changes in comparison to the 2006 and 2019 Canada Food Guide’s recommendations, specifically a reduction in starchy vegetables, wheat and oats, and an increase of tree nuts and meat alternatives. Agricultural land requirements that align with nutritional recommendations could be met with a 4% conversion of current agricultural land in use in 2040 and 6% in 2060. One possibility to meet these recommendations is converting land that is currently dedicated to soy and corn production. One limitation of the study is the exclusion of livestock and dairy, which contributes to a large proportion of land use. This study contributes to current foodshed analysis research, providing a replicable case study methodology for other regions to identify the current status of local food provisioning and its relationship to nutritional needs, as well as to predict and plan for future scenarios with an enhanced food environment. This research suggests that collaborative and simultaneous effort from various stakeholders is needed to support the transition to sustainable diets in Waterloo Region.
Cite this version of the work
Emily Bass (2021). Sustainable Diets, Population Growth & Regional Food Production: A Case Study of Waterloo Region, Ontario. UWSpace. http://hdl.handle.net/10012/17529