Every Canadian deserves the right to a healthy environment: this is the core message behind David Suzuki’s Blue Dot Tour, whose name refers to planet Earth as seen from space.
On Oct. 6 at Humber College’s Lakeshore campus, the National Film Board of Canada and the David Suzuki Foundation invited students from coast to coast to coast to participate in a live, virtual classroom that discussed the current state of food systems and farming practices and their impact on our health and land.
The panel discussion was prefaced with the screening of Island Green, a documentary looking at the changing agriculture industry in Prince Edward Island and how farmers are adapting to a movement from conventional farming to organic.
The audience was also treated to a poetry reading from Halifax’s 2011 and 2012 poet laureate Tanya Davis.
Students from more than 100 post-secondary and high schools participated in the discussion via satellite, with a few lucky students asking the panel questions of their own.
Journalist and author J.B. MacKinnon and Utcha Sawyers, food justice manager at FoodShare Toronto joined Suzuki on stage.
The phrase “Hungry for change” was continuously emphasized, repeated throughout the event and serves as the basis for the goals of the Blue Dot Tour. Communications manager with the Suzuki Foundation Alvin Singh explained, “right now, no Canadian enjoys the right to live in a healthy environment. To enjoy fresh air, clean water and healthy food.”
The Blue Dot Tour’s goal, Singh said, is to get Canadians involved at the grass roots level, putting pressure on local municipalities to make a change to their policies. In time, when enough cities are involved, the thinking goes the provinces will take notice and take their own course of action. Eventually, the federal government would see the steps taken by the provinces and amend our constitution.
“If we think that our highest laws should reflect our values,” Singh said, “then our highest laws should include the right to a healthy environment.”
Once the panel discussion was launched, a passionate Suzuki took charge of the conversation.
“First of all, I would say conventional farming is organic farming and what we’re doing now is buying into an industrial model of farming that is absolutely alien for 90 per cent of the time we have been farmers,” Suzuki said when asked how organic farmers planned to feed the world when conventional farming has been able to adapt thus far.
The panel debated many topics like organic soil regeneration, big box grocery stores vs. local markets, student costs to eat organically and human population.
Water conservation and Canada’s role in that practice was a main talking point. Suzuki mentioned that Canada has more fresh water per capita than any country on earth, yet we have 1,000 boil water alerts every day.
“That tells you we are not treating water the way we should,” Suzuki said. “We use water as a garbage can. We say the solution to pollution is dilution… This is just crazy.”
Suzuki made an especially poignant point with his closing thoughts. He challenged those in attendance to not only seek organically grown foods, but other products such as sustainably-produced clothing.
“Cotton is one of the most chemically intensive crops we grow,” Suzuki said. “It’s an ecological and medical disaster for the people of that area (of agriculture).”
Suzuki urged the crowd to think twice before simply handing over money for certain products without first understanding the consequences of this simple action.
Halmat Palani, a third-year International Development student at Humber found the talk especially insightful for his program.
“If we resolve the question of food security, we put ourselves on the path of achieving a genuine development,” said Palani. “If we change our practices from an industrial practice to a more agrarian and more sustainable practice of production, we can fundamentally develop society and get the world back on the right track.”