At this point the economic case for austerity — for slashing government spending even in the face of a weak economy — has collapsed. Claims that spending cuts would actually boost employment by promoting confidence have fallen apart. Claims that there is some kind of red line of debt that countries dare not cross have turned out to rest on fuzzy and to some extent just plain erroneous math. Predictions of fiscal crisis keep not coming true; predictions of disaster from harsh austerity policies have proved all too accurate.

Yet calls for a reversal of the destructive turn toward austerity are still having a hard time getting through. Partly that reflects vested interests, for austerity policies serve the interests of wealthy creditors; partly it reflects the unwillingness of influential people to admit being wrong. But there is, I believe, a further obstacle to change: widespread, deep-seated cynicism about the ability of democratic governments, once engaged in stimulus, to change course in the future.

As I have said before, the government must consider a national food strategy to combat the growing issue of food insecurity. At the time of my question, the UN rapporteur on the right to food finished his visit to Canada and expressed concern that we were not meeting our obligations under the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which we signed in 2010, by the way. He has since delivered his report to the UN Human Rights Council with a similar message.

The inaccessibility of nutritious, culturally appropriate and sustainably developed food is a problem that disproportionately affects aboriginal and northern communities in Canada. There are a number of factors that limit one’s ability to acquire this food. One of the major factors is income. We know that more than 20% of aboriginal people fall below the Statistics Canada low-income cutoff rate. By way of comparison, only 11% of the rest of our population shares this circumstance.

It’s time for food banks to pump up the volume and start challenging the community to do something more significant than donating a few tins of canned fish whenever the shelves are bare. They should be joining with those voices who want to build a more inclusive community, one that will give all citizens access to affordable housing, nutritious food and appropriate medical care.

Building bigger, more efficient food banks may temporarily feed more hungry people, but they won’t end hunger and they won’t prevent the users of this system from feeling like second-class citizens in a first-class world.

Canada desperately needs a national food strategy.

Our food system is broken.

Farmers are now making less money off their farms than they did during the Great Depression. Our national food guide tells us to load up on fruit and vegetables, but we don’t grow them any more — 80 per cent of produce is imported. Just four companies control more than 70 per cent of food sales in the country! Around 2.5 million Canadians are constantly hungry, and a quarter of us are obese. Canada is the only G8 country without a nationally funded school meal plan ….

These are big problems. So I’m glad the Conference Board of Canada is hosting its second Food Summit at the Metro Convention Centre this Tuesday and Wednesday to hammer out a national food strategy.

But I have concerns. The tickets are around $1,000 a person. And most of the speakers represent Big Industry: Nestle, Cargill, Maple Leaf Foods.

Shouldn’t a national food strategy include all voices, including the majority who can’t afford a $1,000 ticket to the table?

I was in Newmarket the other day for a nifty little public policy event …

I was there to witness an Internet hook-up between Olivier De Schutter in Geneva, and a bunch of anti-poverty workers and volunteers gathered not just in Newmarket but in various cities across the country.

DeSchutter? He is a lawyer and a rights worker for the United Nations; his area of specialty is the right to food.

I won’t quote him directly because he speaks like a UN bureaucrat, mildly and with an emphasis on process, but he worries that our food policy is focused on export. He’s right. He says our Mexican and Caribbean temporary workers have lousy health care and lousy wages. He’s right. He said that roughly a tenth of Canadians are poor. He’s right. He said we are failing these people.

He’s painfully right.

We have widespread and growing hunger in Canada, and we have tackled it with invention and charity, but it seems to me we have been doing this so long that we have forgotten to ask why some people are starving. And it’s embarrassing to be told by an outsider that we are failing. We need to talk?

He’s not right about that.

We need to act.

Picture a vast warehouse the size of a football field. Forklifts stand loaded with wooden pallets and cardboard boxes tightly secured with heavy-duty plastic wrap. In aisle upon aisle, boxes sit on metal shelves that reach all the way to the ceiling. It might be an ikea store or any modern commodity warehouse. But this is a food bank or, more accurately, a food bank distribution warehouse. Every major Canadian city has one. The largest send out nearly 8 million kilograms of food a year to the hungry people lining up at community-based food banks.

Yet each time I visit such warehouses, I find myself alternating between hope and despair. Hope born of the understanding that all of this is motivated by the human urge to help others with that most basic of needs: food. Despair because this effort, and that of food banks all over Canada, has not solved the problem of hunger. On the contrary, I believe food banking makes it worse.

At Newmarket’s Valley View Alliance Church yesterday, the York Region Food Network and Freedom 90 joined a Food Secure Canada-sponsored webinar connecting several hundred social service administrators, volunteers and food bank clients to United Nations special rapporteur Olivier De Schutter in Geneva.

The computer-enabled event featured Mr. De Schutter’s report on his 2012 right to food mission to Canada, a coast-to-coast fact-finding commission with food rights stakeholders and government officials.

Canada is a signatory to the United Nations covenant on economic, social and cultural rights and, therefore, has a legal obligation to respect the right to food, yet millions of people struggle to access healthy food on a daily basis, he said.