The new province-wide Eat Drink Local campaign came from rather humble beginnings.
"Several years ago, a good friend of mine... said you should have a local apple pie contest and get all the politicians in the legislature to judge it," explained Ian Tostenson, president of the B.C. Restaurant and Food Services Association, which spearheaded the program. So Tostenson thought, why stop at pie?
The initiative, announced late-March, is as month-long celebration of B.C.-made food and beverages slated for sometime in the fall. The campaign invites restaurants, cafés, pubs, hotels and caterers from across the province to showcase their culinary ingenuity using locally sourced ingredients and products.
"Our objective is not to make this just another food promotion," Tostenson said.
"There's so much awareness we need to create about the abundance (of products) this province produces."
What distinguishes Eat Drink Local from the average dining campaign is its focus on each point in the supply chain. Tostenson said a website will be developed that will include not only chef profiles and details on the latest food trends, but will also serve as a directory to farmers, anglers and other food suppliers throughout B.C.
"It's trying to become a hub not just for restaurants, but for information with respect to local food and beverages," Tostenson explained.
"From the supplier-producer point of view, if we can create some distribution channels and smooth that out a bit, it's going to be really good for the economy."
The program's economic potential is part of the reason why B.C.'s Ministry of Agriculture got onboard with close to $225,000 in funding for the first year.
"Our job at the ministry is to constantly find ways to promote B.C. agriculture, not only locally in British Columbia but around the world," said agriculture minister Norm Letnick.
"We want tourists to come here and eat the best and then go around the world to where they came from and tell their wholesalers and distributors that they should be buying B.C. products. That will go a long way to helping food security in our province."
Victoria will support the campaign for at least three years, Tostenson said, after which the hope is the program will support itself.
"We see it as an investment," said Tostenson of the provincial funding. "The government will get a return on their agricultural program because they have very strong sales targets to meet, and then this will be self-sustaining probably in Year 4, definitely Year 5."
In a province that produces an abundance of quality ingredients from farm to sea, and is recognized globally for its diverse global cuisine, British Columbia still lacks an easily defined food culture. Tostenson sees Eat Drink Local as one way to shape that identity and cement B.C's far-reaching food "microcultures."
"I think what we'll do is help people understand, on a broader basis, what we produce here, and how awesome it is," he added. "Living in B.C., our food culture (exemplifies) that you have a great choice of local products to satisfy whatever your thing is."
Restaurants interested in taking part will be asked to develop a special fresh sheet highlighting the local ingredients on offer. Application details are available at www.bcrfa.com. The timing of the Eat Drink Local promotion will be announced shortly.