June 2011


Invisible colours of food

The words “race” and “power” are seldom spoken aloud, let alone seen in print in recent initiatives in Toronto to embrace diversity in the food system. A veritable buffet of activities-to-aperitifs spanning the city brings acclaim and acceptance to Toronto as a thriving leader in policy and practice, adding flavour to our local and international reputation as a multicultural mecca. Our food system is, arguably, necessarily complex and respected in its many manifestations. Yet, Toronto has yet to acknowledge multiple forms and sites of racism, and to seriously embark in action for racial justice in the food system.

On May 9th, participants came together in a conversation organized by Food Forward to talk about the connections they see between racism, food systems, and the "food movement" in Toronto and elsewhere. Prior to the meeting, over 20 members of Toronto’s food community groups submitted questions and articulated issues related to food and race in our city. All expressed an enthusiasm to see the links between these issues be made more visible, be better understood, and be actively addressed in their work and the work of other Toronto food organizations.

“How can we bring a critical food justice perspective to the forefront in Toronto's food security movement?”"How can we address intersecting oppressions and barriers in the food movement?" These questions and many more helped to guide the discussion facilitated by Darcy Higgins, Vanessa Ling Yu and Linda Swanston.

We began the discussion by recognizing our varied interests in food and areas of food work, and then sketched out links between the food system and Toronto’s infrastructure, including health, transportation, land, education, income, and employment. 25 Food Connections to the City of Toronto provides a visual map of many sites of intersection that our municipal government attends to in collaboration with partners across the city. Underlying these connections is an inherent understanding of the significance of food security for all. It was noted that in contrast to definition of food security doesn’t mention it.

It seems virtually every organization in Toronto’s food system is engaged in diversification efforts, scrounging from funding and farm sources for product and program offerings to meet the demands and needs of “diverse communities”. Because we all have to eat, food-based initiatives are an excellent platform from which to garner attention and action among people to build assets and address issues across and within communities.

But embracing the many ways food helps to bring people together does not preclude redress for the ways by which food has and continues to separate and stratify people on the basis of racial attributes. As the idea of food is propagated, picked, polished, and politicized with different working definitions, often absent from the various food discourses used across Toronto’s food communities is a critical perspective on race and representation.

We all acknowledge and recognize the need to include diverse communities that are often interchangeably and convolutedly referred to as “ethnic”, “cultural”, “migrant”, “immigrant”, “newcomer”, and “priority” populations. Still, it seems like window-dressing for deeper implicit and explicit implications of these categories (and other intersecting forms of oppression) in the context of Canada’s food system. Shifting our focus to individuals and organizations, we find a hazy line separates carefully crafted PR opportunities and token representation from diverse communities. The roots of racism are festering in a proverbial raised bed brimming with the potential of good food. The scent is so strong that we can taste it on our tongues, but how do we talk about race and racism in the food system?

“Where/ how can we access/ create anti-racism training for foodies?”“What approaches to food programming have other groups used to link race and food in discussion groups? How can my organization develop a dialogue around race and food with our participants?” Many participants sought resources to help to guide the discussions about race in their food work. Participants completed the ‘Invisible Food Basket’ activity, a tool I developed that re-visions the classic anti-oppression tool, the invisible backpack. We met with members of the Growing Food Justice for All Initiative Toronto Local Empowerment Group (Toronto GFJI-LEG) and appreciated their participation in the conversation. Toronto GFJI-LEG contributes to the Growing Food and Justice For All Initiative internationally - find some history of this organization written locally,  here

We didn’t end with any answers, but rather a shared commitment to continue the conversation and make sure that issues of race and justice remain on the table in our efforts to revitalize and make resilient our food systems. Earlier this year, the Applied Research Centre (ARC) released The Color of Food Report, which provides a broad survey of the food system in the US, to map out race, gender and class of workers along the food chain. Analyses of this type of data are not yet available in Canada.

The report provides a great summary to underline how to move forward: “A movement for food justice must advocate for the dignity of and respect for the workers who help to produce, process, distribute and serve us our food. This will require us to build meaningful and durable bridges between the food, labo[u]r and racial justice movements.” ARC, 2011, p.20

If you’re interested in finding out more about the meeting or future Food Forward initiatives related to food and race justice please get in touch with Vanessa at vanessalingyu@gmail.com


Ontario Election 2011: Time for Good Food

Join Sustain Ontario, Food Forward and other partners as we build a campaign to create food policy change in the next election. Comment on one of this or Sustain's blog with questions or to get involved. We'll really be collaborating across sectors to achieve big success. Get ready, and we hope your organization or friends can help organize in your riding - our resources will help.

by Ravenna Barker and Wayne Roberts

Three huge issues will be front and centre in Ontario’s 2011 election – health, health and health. All three issues – medical health, economic health and environmental health – have one thing in common. Good food is indispensable to success with all of them.

With growing awareness of the importance, value, and potential of food across Ontario this could be the year that food finds its rightful place at the policy table. In Ontario today there is no food ministry, minister, office, department, legislation, plan or strategy. As a result we’re missing out on great opportunities to create jobs– the food sector has already become Ontario’s top employer; improve health promotion and generate huge medical savings; create lively and welcoming communities; engage students and make curricula relevant; and improve our air, soil, water and wildlife habitat. Food can make all of these things happen – but it won’t until there’s coordination across ministries, jurisdictions, communities and businesses.

Sustain Ontario’s job is to bring together a wide range of food-related community and stakeholder groups across the province. Our non-partisan goal is to help the government get its act together with food. We’d like to see all parties integrate a focus on food into their platforms, taking advantage of the opportunities that come from managing the food file in an integrated way.

Read more, including policy ideas: http://sustainontario.com/2011/06/15/5470/blog/news/ontario-election-201...


A garden in every school

Toronto food literacy leader Green Thumbs Growing Kids has their downtown school garden profiled with CTV's Marc Cullen.

Our friend Sunday Harrison's guest blog on the site includes a vision for school gardens:

I'm a long-time fan of Mark Cullen and his no-nonsense approach to getting everyone comfortable with gardening. He's a great supporter of organic and children's gardens, so it was a huge honour to host him at the Winchester School Community Garden, where I've been gardening for 10 years with students from kindergarten to Grade 8. Our not-for-profit, charitable organization Green Thumbs Growing Kids was created and developed through our relationship to this school, using the unusually large garden for summer programs. Our mission is to help children and youth grow and eat their own healthy foods -- and to work with teachers to tie it all into curriculum in science, language, math, art and the environment.

Read more and see Marc's interviews with the kids:


Canadian Multicultural Journal, April-May 2011


Protect our Farmland, Stop the Mega Quarry



Food rising from the ashes

City Council has been all over food policy as of late. This week, food makes another entry with a motion by Councillors De Baeremaeker and Wong-Tam at the Tuesday-Wednesday meeting to investigate a possible banof shark fin in Toronto restaurants, shark being an animal under threat of extinction. A good time to broaden the discussion and on food policy and the treatment of various animals.

Last Council meeting was the death knell for Toronto's problematic "Toronto a la Cart" street food program, which was wrought with bureaucratic and business management problems. But not widely reported was the future of street food in Toronto and the City's direction, après Cart. The City seems to have learned from its mistakes and is now considering how it can open up healthy, diverse food with fewer strings attached, as many of us have hoped. Council struck a working group to come up with new ways to allow street food to be delivered in the City - not run by the City itself liked before, but still governed within City regulations. The working group is made up of City staff along with a current food vendor, one of the A La Cart participants and a rep from the BIAs, and will come back to Council with a plan later this year to bring back a clear set of street food requirements for vendors, in hopes of new and healthier options. Interviews with other cities will be lined up and all related policies will be reviewed - including the current moratorium preventing the move past hot dogs. Food Forward has been in touch with Licensing & Standards which is leading up the review, and they've agreed to consider our input and support once they've gotten going. We are hopeful about what the next steps could mean on this issue, as a reflection of a potential new attitude on food policy at City Hall. Progress on this file would see new opportunities to bring Toronto up a notch - on culture, food access and new jobs. We'll keep you apprised (join our contact list!


Hospital food making you queasy? Menu changes on the way.

Good food may be coming to more patients' plates thanks to the work of many area activists and health care workers.

photo by Nathan Etherington

That food in hospitals should be nourishing and enjoyable is a seeming no brainer. Yet somehow we’ve let hospital meals become the definition of unappealing, unenjoyable and often remarkably unhealthy food (despite the valiant efforts of hospital dietians to adhere to the letter of the Canada Food Guide).

Thankfully, if recent events in Toronto are anything to go by, this may be in the process of changing.

At the end of March the Burger King franchise inside the Hospital for Sick Children shut down its deep-fryer for good. Burger King’s lease was not renewed at the end of a bidding “process meant to offer healthier food options to visitors and staff” according to a Globe and Mail article. You can still find Pizza Pizza and Subway in Sick Kid’s main foyer, but that fact that the health impact of hospital food was even considered is a major step for a sector that is largely driven by the bottom line and budget constraints.

On average Ontario long-term care facilities spend $7.33 per person per day on raw food. Hospitals are allocated the same amount or less, both sums smaller than the average amount spent by correctional facilities on food per inmate per day. Only around 60% of Ontario patients are satisfied with the food they receive and wastage rates are alarming. Canadian statistics are hard to come by but a UK study found that food wastage ranged from 17% and 67%. In a healthcare system stretched to the financial limit issues of satisfaction and waste can become secondary concerns.

For the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare (CCGH), however, finding ways to address these secondary concerns is a top priority.

The CCGH is making healthy and sustainable hospital food one of their main objectives in their bid to green Canadian healthcare. Their Local and Sustainable Foods campaign is focusing on shifting hospital food services and procurement to not only be better for patients but to also contribute to sustainable local food economies. In late April CCGH organized the first conference of its kind in Canada bringing together over 60 participants from across the hospital food chain. Group purchasing organizations, major food service contractors including Aramark and Sysco, hospital administrators and food service staff met for a day of open discussion about what is needed, desired and possible in Ontario hospital food systems.

As various pilot initiatives push forward and different facilities consider integrating more local and sustainable food into their patient and cafeteria meals, public support and input are critical. Stay tuned to the Food Forward blog for updates on the evolution of hospital food in Toronto and beyond.

Linda has a passion for healthy, sustainable food. She volunteers with Food Forward - please contact her if you are interested in learning more about hospital food or being involved in a campaign: linda@pushfoodforward.com


picnicTO - our first Community Garden Party!

Everyone's been enjoying our "Foodie Drinks" and the weather dial's been turned to Gorgeous, so we're moving outside for our next food movement get-together.

Not the Queen's kind of garden party, we'll be meeting at Eglinton Park Heritage Garden for a picnic and tour. Bring some dinner and enjoy mingling with gardeners and new friends, while getting a tour of the Eglinton Park Heritage Garden and learning about what makes it unique, from Toronto Green Community's Emily Martyn.

- Thursday, June 9 · 6:30pm - 8:30pm
- Eglinton Park Heritage Garden (north-west side of Toronto Memorial Centre) at 200 Eglinton Avenue West (near Eglinton Station)

It's also Market Day at Eglinton Park, so come by a little early to pick something up from Appletree Market, which closes at 7.

More details on the Garden here.

Wherever you are in the City, it will be worth the visit. Special welcome to residents & businesses in the neighbourhood.

Hosted by Food Forward. As always, donations and memberships will be accepted.
Mark attendance on Facebook.