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Feds wanted to promote Canadian food to Japanese quake victims: docs

There’s nothing like a massive earthquake, a three-storey tsunami and a nuclear crisis to whet the appetite for Canadian cuisine.

Or so the federal government seems to think.

New documents show Ottawa saw an opportunity in the catastrophe that engulfed Japan last year to promote food from Canada.

A proposal under the Canada Brand Initiative sought to dish Quebec maple syrup, Alberta beef and other staples of the Canadian diet to people left homeless by the disaster.

“There are more than 110,000 people staying in shelters since March 11. Although basic nutritional requirements of people in affected regions seem to be improved by now, their living standard is still very far from what the regular life should be,” says a proposal for the project.

“Therefore, to show Canada’s support to the affected people, we would like to set up a temporary outdoor cafe and provide them with quality foods using Canadian ingredients and experience as if they are visiting Canada.”

The Canada Brand Initiative is the federal government’s multimillion-dollar marketing plan to boost worldwide sales of food produced by Canadian farmers.

The proposal for the Tohoku Canada Cafe, named after a region in Japan hit hard by the quake and tsunami, is clearly marked as being part of the Canada Brand Initiative. It was released to The Canadian Press with other Canada Brand documents under the Access to Information Act.

The documents say the event was originally set for June 28-29 last year. But Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada said the event actually took place on Dec. 10 in conjunction with the Town of Otsuchi’s “Hope for salmon to return” festival. The town was badly damaged by the tsunami and earthquake.

The department said an estimated 1,500 people attended the event, and 1,000 were served beef, pork, maple syrup, blueberries, bottled water and honey at the Canada Cafe.

Asked why the project was proposed under the Canada Brand Initiative, the department said it was meant to heighten awareness of Canadian food.

“(The Canada Brand Advocacy Initiative’s) mandate is to raise awareness of Canadian food and agricultural products and Japan is a priority market for Canadian agricultural exports,” spokesman Patrick Girard said in an email.

The magnitude 9.0 earthquake and subsequent tsunami last March left nearly 20,000 people dead or missing. Three reactors melted down at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant after a torrent of seawater swamped the power supply lines, triggering an evacuation of the surrounding area when authorities found eight times the normal radiation levels outside the facility.

Meanwhile, documents show the government hired a company to get Canadian food onto supermarket shelves and restaurant menus in Tokyo a few weeks after the disaster struck. Sales were not expected to be high, a report notes, given the “earthquake effect.”

But apparently Japanese foodies couldn’t resist Canadian treats.

“Snack time food ‘poutine’ and ‘maple latte’ sold well and other three main meal menu items are sold equally,” the report says.

“Because of after earthquake, many restaurants in Tokyo area had difficult time to get customers. Yet, Canadian foods sales exceed expectations. The customers love to order unique and new Canadian meal experience menus.”

Maple syrup products and Canadian bacon were big sellers in supermarkets, the document adds.

In the aftermath of last year’s quake, Canadians opened their wallets and donated millions of dollars. But unlike the earthquake that devastated Haiti in 2009, the federal government did not match individual donations to help Japan through the disaster.

Canada offered a Disaster Victim Identification team as well as technical expertise and equipment to help Japan stabilize its nuclear reactors. Thousands of thermal blankets were also shipped to Japan to help survivors cope with the cold weather.