sauce in dish

Have you been keeping up with the French’s Ketchup Saga? Briefly, Loblaws announced that they were taking the condiment off the shelves, and, suddenly, a wave of national feeling broke out across Ontario as people demanded that Loblaws be boycotted for favouring an American brand of ketchup – Heinz – over a “local” brand. French’s, you see, use tomatoes grown in Leamington, where Heinz had closed their plant, throwing hundreds out of work. It was a bit of a storm in a ketchup bottle, since both brands are actually American and both use Leamington tomatoes, but that didn’t seem to matter.

The uproar was most likely more about perception than reality. It was the perception that a Canadian supermarket chain was putting American products before Canadian, and that in itself is an interesting idea. We are getting used to international trade deals. Ever since NAFTA, we’ve learned words like “globalisation” (or even “globalization”), and we began to think positively about “free”trade and exciting new deals with fancy acronyms like the TPP and CETA.

But the ketchup furore has brought out into the open an underlying unease about how much free trade is costing us in terms of jobs, economic sovereignty and the quality of the food we eat.

“Local” is another word we have started to use a lot. This is not just a trendy “sustainable” kind of word, either. It means something to us now. There is a desire to support what is local, as opposed to what is imported and detrimental to our neighbours and friends. Having a wide choice of foods, for example, is not necessarily a good thing, if that food is from thousands of miles away and competes with the local farmer or factory worker. Locally-grown or processed food is fresher, of better quality and tastes better. Failing to support your local economy, it turns out, can lead to higher taxes, as people get laid off and can’t afford a home, or their business goes under because of competition from international corporations.

There are a few items in this week’s paper that speak to the subject. Great news about the recognition that Gerald Tallman and the Tallman Truck Centre has received this month. Here is a company, based in North Grenville, that has remained in Ontario, providing jobs and quality service. We have a review of a new book on the history of Kemptville College, written and published in North Grenville, and celebrating a local institution that the community wants to see remain a vital part of our municipality.

But there are the bad news stories too. Metroland, publisher of the Kemptville Advance, are moving their graphic design work (ads, mostly) to India, an all too familiar story these days, as jobs and enterprise are shifted to low-wage countries and local communities in Canada deal with the fallout. Full disclosure: I resigned from the Board of the NG Chamber of Commerce because the Chamber decided to give a project to Metroland, an outside corporation moving jobs to India, instead of the Times, a local business: and then brought a Metroland rep (not living or working in NG) on to the Board. Bad business decision and bad for the local economy.

There was a time when the North Grenville economy was very much self-sustaining, and could be again. Another article this week talks about a farm family in Rideau Township that is opening a cheese making facility, something that used to be a major element in our own local scene. It has been argued many times recently that the Kemptville College campus would be a wonderful location for local food initiatives and entrepreneurship. We are a predominantly rural community, with land and expertise to make that kind of enterprise work.

We are said to be, perhaps accurately, the fastest growing municipality in Ontario. There are certainly plenty of new homes being built, and many more being planned for the coming decade, as our population is expected to double. But how many of those homes are built with materials sourced locally? How many of the wage earners on those developments live in North Grenville. Westerra Homes and Lockwood Brothers use local materials and labour, keeping wages within the community, to be spent on food, entertainment, restaurants, and taxes. But how much is lost, taken away and spent outside North Grenville. How many municipal employees do the same: being paid large salaries from our taxes, and living somewhere else, paying taxes somewhere else, spending their salaries somewhere else?

These are all very delicate issues, issues we may not want to have raised in public. But they must be. We have to see that we must have more control over how and where we spend our money, what kind of choices we make investing our time and assets in local enterprise. This is a generous and caring society: times are tough for too many people and it’s time to think seriously about why that is, and what we can do about it.

It may only be ketchup, but it means something more, and we are, finally, beginning to understand that. Go along to the Shop Local Trade Show coming up at the Municipal Centre. See what local businesses have to offer here. Buy local produce and products wherever possible. As with so many other things, we’re all in this together.

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