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Frontline food workers to Ontario: We’re here for you

We’re pretty attached to our neighbourhood butcher. He’s always been renowned for quality, let alone service and friendliness.

And now, throughout the pandemic, he’s become a source of confidence and hope.

He’s repeatedly assured us that despite the headlines and the very real challenges facing the agriculture sector, such as large processing plant closures due to COVID-19 infections, we can count on him to keep us fed. He has long-established relationships with local producers and processors who are working hard to supply him with everything he needs to look after us.

He’s even brought in additional products, such as more produce than his shop normally carries, to accommodate those in the neighbourhood who can’t go to a grocery store, or don’t feel safe doing so.

That’s a huge relief in the face of a global health disaster. I hope you are as fortunate to know such a frontline food worker.

This kind of trust prevails throughout the food chain, no matter if we’re talking about the neighbourhood butcher who is seen by all and knows all his customers by name, or the professional behind the scenes at the local grocery store, chain or otherwise, who’s immersed in food preparation but is seldom seen by anyone.

Everyone involved in agri-food counts on someone else. Farmers count on a wide array of suppliers – and labourers, such as the international workers who arrive every year to lend a hand – to make sure they can keep their livestock fed and get their crops in the ground. Processors and manufacturers count on farmers for a quality product. Consumers count on the participants in the entire value chain that precedes their purchases, starting with farmers and including inspectors and other regulators, for safe, quality products.

On Wednesday, Meat and Poultry Ontario launched a campaign to broadly instill confidence in consumers and offer some guidance for the way forward. The organization represents many of the small- and medium-size meat processors in the province frontline food supply chain workers – meat and poultry processors, butchers, sausage makers, packers, farmers, truck drivers, quality assurance technicians, government inspectors, cashiers and retailers.

“Thank you for continuing to support your local meat and poultry processors,” says Carol Goriup, the organization’s president.“We are here for you. We are all in this together and we will move forward together.”

Goriup notes that like other frontline workers, her members haven’t missed a beat during the pandemic – in their case, serving the public by providing quality, local meat. Like my own neighbourhood butcher, she gives assurances about supply.

“There is no need to stock up and overfill your freezer,” she says. “Continue with your regular grocery routine.”

And she’s encouraging consumers to get creative at mealtimes.

“Perhaps you can think of this as a great opportunity to try something new such as a new cut of beef, or a different brand of burger,” she says. “Maybe veal or lamb can become a new addition to your dinner table. Easter has now passed, and Thanksgiving is a few months away, but you don’t have to wait. Make turkey a regular part of your everyday menu. As always, pork and chicken are versatile options to add to any plate.”

Meat and Poultry Ontario members also supply restaurants, which have taken a huge hit as a result of the pandemic. Goriup includes them in this campaign, reminding us that we can support them still through efforts like National Take Out Day (which is Wednesdays, by the way), newly designed take out menus and curbside pick-up and delivery options.

The key is that supply will not be an issue. Affordability, however, is a different matter. We know that with so many people unemployed, food choices such as meat versus alternatives and food prices are under the microscope. All sectors need to take that into account and help guide consumers economically through these tough times, like Meat and Poultry Ontario is trying to do.

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