Recently, I had the unique opportunity to work collaboratively with one of Toronto’s leading food justice activists, Anan Lololi, to create this digital story featured here: Anan’s Story: Growing Food Justice in Toronto. Anan is the Executive Director of Afri-Can Food Basket (AFB), a non-profit organization in Toronto addressing food security in Toronto’s racialized and low-income communities through urban agriculture and community gardening, africanfoodbasket.com. He is also a founding member of the Growing Food and Justice for All Initiative (GFJI), a North American network that aims to critically examine, advance knowledge, and stimulate action in food justice by developing and sharing anti-racist and human-rights approaches to local and sustainable food initiatives.
My connection with Anan was fostered through The Foodshed Project, an initiative that brings together food, farming groups and individuals in the public, private and nonprofit sectors with food scholars, activists and students to share stories and link groups towards a resilient Ontario agri-food system. You can view and share the Foodshed Project digital story collection online at: http://vimeo.com/channels/foodshed.
My heart raced while walking to Anan’s home office not far from campus. This was to be a seminal moment for me as a digital storyteller, artist, and anti-racist activist and I was unsure of my competence with both the process and the content. I was anxious of how I would be perceived by Anan, a man for whom I have immense respect, when talking about a topic deemed ‘sensitive’ by most people. I was self-conscious of my identity – a middle-class university student of European descent – influencing the telling of the story of a Guyanese-Canadian activist that explicitly deals with themes of racism and classism.
In this first meeting, my sole intent was to listen and to catch a thread of the story that needed to be told. I wanted to produce a story that would be useful to Anan’s work, and I had in mind that connecting with AFB’s youth may be a good idea. However, as I carefully listened to Anan talk about his work, I clearly heard his passion and pride in his involvement with a group I had never heard of, GFJI. I caught this story thread, gently tugged, and a new energy surfaced in Anan’s voice. I immediately heard strong dedication to anti-racism education and knowledge as a portal to food justice, great pride in the diversity of our city, and immense frustration at the uphill battle he fights daily for a food just Toronto. I knew this was Anan’s story- personal, political, rich, and a voice we desperately need to hear.
Thinking back to that first heart-pounding interview with Anan, I recall my fear of saying the wrong thing, or perhaps more likely, distancing myself in trying to be politically correct. This reflection brings the realization of how much sharing the telling of Anan’s story has strengthened my own understanding of advancing the principles of food justice in my life and in my work. Prior to this project, I was definitely aware of racism and classism in the food movement. I was conscious of my own of white privilege, but I was unsure what to do with it, often struggling to move beyond daunting guilt at my position of privilege in structural racial hierarchies. I worked to challenge overt racism and tokenism but I didn’t know how to go deeper.
Facing and discussing anti-racism headon pushes me to take steps to move beyond that guilty inaction and towards a strategic direction for change. I now know that I will never reach a point where I’m comfortably in a position of understanding a methodology of anti-racism, because this system of oppression is a moving target and addressing it isn’t about me being comfortable. It’s a continuous process of critical reflection, tough questions, education, and collaborative work that I must challenge myself to continue each day in my work and my life. Helping to tell Anan’s story has had a transformative effect on my understanding of how to move forward as an anti-racist ally within Toronto’s food justice movement. Throughout this process, I have come to understand that in order to create food security for all people, food justice must be the base of our work in food system transformation at all links in the chain, and sharing stories can help others understand this fundamental lesson.
As a catalyst for conversation, we screened Anan’s Story last week at a collaborative meeting between GFJI and Food Forward..Stay tuned for an upcoming blog post about this meeting by Food Forward volunteers Linda and Vanessa. My hope is that the digital stories collection will continue to grow and to be shared, sparking real dialogue and action that build support for GFJI and other food justice initiatives in Toronto. In Anan’s words: “We have an opportunity to be a model to the world food security movement. That is my dream to see.” It is a dream we share, and together we can get there!
To join other Food Forward members in supporting The Growing Food and Justice For All Initiative Toronto LEG, please contact Chanda Pal at firstname.lastname@example.org or contact Afri-Can Food Basket at (416) 248-5639.
To get involved with The Foodshed Project and digital storytelling, please contact Caitlin Langlois Greenham at email@example.com.
Useful resource for anti-racist allies:
Wilmot, S. (2005). Taking Responsibility Taking Direction: White Anti-Racism in Canada. Winnipeg: Arbeiter Ring Publishing.
McIntosh, Peggy. (1988). White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack. <http://www.nymbp.org/reference/WhitePrivilege.pdf>
Since my last post in June on the City's hope for a street food recovery, the temporary Street Food Working Group (see their Terms of Reference) has been quietly working away on recommendations for City Council which will soon be ready. They met today. See this article in CanCulture magazine for more on what's up.
With Food Forward's mission to make the people's voice heard at City Hall in Toronto food system issues, we wanted to update you to let you know that if you have ideas on the future of Toronto street food & city regulations, you can have a say. The same mission is also why we're inviting you to an event covering street food & other eats, on the future of exciting new food business in the City, and how we can make an impact.
We are pleased to be hosting a Town hall on Unlocking Toronto's future good food jobs. Hear from prominent Torontonians from across innovative food sectors, those working on ventures and policy that are changing the face of the City.
Contact me if you are interested in making recommendations to the City through the Working Group and I will help share the process: firstname.lastname@example.org It is important that the future system be accessible in many ways to those wanting to start a new food business anywhere in Toronto, and encourages healthy, diverse, sustainable food - but not in a cumbersome way. Perhaps we can share this and other messages together.
Food Forward is excited to share the word about our next public forum, a Town Hall on Unlocking Toronto's future good food jobs, and is looking for your support to make it a success.
Description: The forum will feature some of the Toronto's leaders in innovative food business, including farmer's markets, street food, food trucks and other local ventures and food security opportunities. We will be looking at the possibilities and also the barriers to promote a more open and interesting toronto food scene, including municipal regulations and related advocacy for change. There will be significant opportunity for audience discussion, which will identify opportunities for future action.
The Town Hall will be followed by Foodie Drinks, our regular event which brings together food enthusiasts with good food businesses and local food non-profits to discuss a growing sector and networking opportunities. We could use your help in covering event preparation costs and promoting to those who may be interested.
For non-profit organizations: We are looking for your endorsement of the Town Hall. This simply means you support our goal in working work toward more good food opportunities in all parts of the City, using good food business as a lever for societal change, and public discussion of these ideas leading to effective change. We will list your organization as an endorser in our eevent promotions, and will ask you to promote it in your usual channels.
For small and medium sized businesses: We are interested in hosting Presenting Sponsors for the Town Hall at a donation level of $250. A business interested in this sponsorship would be recognized as such at the event and in all event promotions, with a description of their businesses and products/services, along with a change to mingle with guests afterwards. Promotional material may be handed out, and you will be recognized as well through our popular social media channels, and be provided an annual membership in Food Forward.
As our intention is to support small businesses that have created jobs and are working to making a difference in good food, we have also created a low cost entry point, considering scale of potential partners interested in becoming event sponsor. Our other sponsors will be thanked, promoted and linked to in event advertising and social media. As a special offer, with a $60 contribution towards the Town Hall, we will provide a one-year annual membership, which includes an ongoing spot in our Toronto Directory of Good Food Businesses.