© 1996 Karen Selick
 A Tale of Feast and Famine
An edited version of this article first appeared in the April, 1996 issue of Canadian Lawyer.  If you wish to reproduce this article, click here for copyright info.

 A Tale of Feast and Famine

The year is 2006.  Canadians, having been told for decades that free universal health insurance is a right, a necessity, a sacred trust and the thing that makes Canada a better country than the United States, decide to take the idea one step further. 

The Free Lunch Party is elected on a platform promising free, universal nourishment insurance.  Their program, called the Food Assurance Trust of Canada (FAT Canada for short) guarantees equal access to food for all Canadians.  Food is, after all, as much a necessity as medical care, and far too important to be left to the vicissitudes of the marketplace. 

Grocery shoppers no longer need cash, chequebooks or debit cards.  They simply present their FAT Canada cards at the checkout counter and their bills go to the government for payment. 

An early controversy arose over whether restaurant bills would be covered by the plan, but the Food Minister firmly opposed a two-tiered system of food insurance.  "We are committed to the equal victualage of all Canadians, rich or poor," she said.  "The rich should not be able to get better food care simply because they can afford to pay for someone else to prepare or serve their meals."  Some cabinet ministers favoured imposing equality by banning restaurants entirely, but they were voted down by their more liberal colleagues.  So restaurant bills were covered, and only tipping was outlawed, lest a wealthy diner obtain an unfair advantage over a poor one. 

The merits of the FAT Canada plan have been immediately apparent to everyone.  No longer are there two classes of citizens--one eating filet mignon and the other eating hamburger.  The food banks have closed down. The newspaper stories about hungry children have ceased.  Supermarket and restaurant owners are delighted--business has never been better, and they never have to worry about bounced cheques.  Foreign grocers and restaurateurs immigrate in droves, attracted by the guaranteed revenues.  Farmers prosper.  It's a great time to be a Canadian. 

The year is 2011.  A report on FAT Canada's first five years contains disturbing news.  Canadians have apparently been wasting food: taking home more than they need and throwing it away when it goes bad.  It's rumoured that many cats and dogs won't eat pet food any more, preferring to wait for leftover roast beef. 

Food stores no longer have to compete on price, so they've been competing on congeniality, quality and variety, urging shoppers to take home huge quantities of caviar, lobster, T-bone steak and imported delicacies. 

Even fast-food outlets, striving to maintain their youthful image without making their customers second-class citizens, now serve ground Porterhouse steak inside their sesame seed buns. There is no longer any market for the poorer cuts of meat.  Because of the waste, the price of the better cuts is forced up. 

Demand for cheap foods like pasta and peanut butter is down.  A few manufacturers go out of business.  The country's canneries start closing.  Who wants canned produce when fresh is available free? 

Sparsely populated areas are finding that their former grocers and restaurateurs have moved to the city, where high population density guarantees greater profitability. 

Canada is now spending twice as much on food, in constant dollars, as it did when the plan began, but the troubling news is downplayed by the media and the Free Lunchers are re-elected by a landslide. 


It's 2015.  With Canada's skyrocketing food bill now a matter of common knowledge, support for the government weakens.  The Free Lunchers promise to maintain their popular food insurance program without increasing taxes or the deficit.  Only a few minor changes will be necessary. 

First, to demonstrate its commitment, the government announces a new name: the Food Assurance Sacred Trust of Canada, or FAST Canada for short. 

Free Lunch economists declare that the cause of excessive food spending is too many food suppliers.  Henceforth, grocers and restaurateurs must be licensed.  Immigrants are ineligible for a license without Canadian training and experience. Future licensees will be permitted to operate only in remote, under-serviced  communities.  The number of city licences is strictly limited.  Many supermarkets and restaurants are forced to shut down. 

The government also declares that food suppliers have been getting too rich.  Billings will be capped.  Even the holders of the coveted licences start moving to other countries. 

To eat out, Canadians now need reservations several weeks in advance--even at burger joints.  Grocery shoppers have to line up to gain entry to the crowded stores, which no longer bother to stock merchandise above their billing cap. Wealthy Canadians start shopping in the U.S., triggering complaints in Parliament about "two-tiered nourishment." 

In a final, desperate attempt to restore the quality of Canada's food care, the government raises taxes.  The spell is broken.  Finally, Canadians come to recognize the fraud they had so willingly believed in for 10 years.  An election is held, and the government fails to capture a single seat, proving once again that there really can’t be such a thing as a free lunch. 

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June 11, 2000