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The top 5 food-related stories of 2020

From baking sourdough bread to ordering more takeout and starting a garden, food stories made a big impact in 2020. Photo: Metro Creative Connection

Food took an unanticipated role in 2020, thanks to COVID-19. Whether the subject was hunkering down at home for bread-baking and ordering takeout, buying groceries online or hoarding toilet paper and flour, food stories made an impact. Sylvain Charlebois, senior director of the Agri-Food Analytics Lab at Dalhousie University, compiled a list of top food-related stories in Canada in 2020. Here's a peek at his top five:

5: The collapse of the food service industry. The numbers tell the tale. At the start of the year, Canadians spent about 36 per cent of food budget on food eaten outside the home--fast food, dine-in restaurants etc. In April, that number was nine per cent.  Later in the year, the number bobbed back up to about 25 per cent. But restaurant operators say we won't get back to 36 per cent anytime soon. People are spooked about dining out, and the pandemic isn't over yet.

4: Farmgate waste. Remember hearing about the mountains of potatoes going to waste earlier this year? Because of disruptions created by the pandemic, millions of litres of milk were dumped, millions of perfectly healthy farm animals were euthanized across the country, and lettuce and mushrooms disposed of too. Farmers weren’t to blame, but our lack of focus on processing as a country was. 

3: Telecommuting, cooking, gardening and how we became more domesticated.   This got a lot of press--all the sourdough bread baking and posting on social media--run on baking ingredients and toilet paper at the grocery store etc. Working from home, or being in lock down got us out of the restaurants and closer to our kitchens. It also spurred a huge uptick in gardening--nearly 20 per cent of Canadians started a garden this year. People sought comfort and recreation, but also an made an effort to grow their own food when food supply concerns were high. 

2: Black Lives Matter spurs marketing changes. Amid the massive Black Lives Matter movement ignited by George Floyd’s death, PepsiCo opted to change the name and brand image of its Aunt Jemima pancake mix and syrup. Other food companies followed suit during the summer. Look for food marketing to be forever changed.

1: Panic buying. Beyond the ridiculousness of toilet paper hoarding, the impact of empty shelves was immense. Many Canadians would have experienced the emotions of food insecurity for the first time. Since then, behaviours and even policy have been impacted by the powerful images of bare grocery store shelves. Truly a moment in time.