Growing Food and Justice Initiative


Food Justice, inequity and change in Toronto

Last week, Toronto Mayor John Tory proclaimed May 5, 2015 Food Justice Day in Toronto. For this special occasion, Nydia Dauphin, FoodShare Toronto’s Food Justice Senior Coordinator, was among the guest speakers invited to City Hall to share their work and recommendations to advance food justice in the city.

About FoodShare Toronto’s Food Justice Work

FoodShare Toronto is a non-profit community food organization that develops long-term solutions to address food system inequalities. Our programs follow a food justice community development model to rebuild community control of our food system by partnering with community leaders, organizations, and schools.

FoodShare prioritizes work with low-income communities and schools through focused programs in fresh produce distribution, food literacy education, urban agriculture, nutrition and community cooking. All programs support a variety of health, economic, environmental, community, and social benefits, and seek to improve food access for everyone currently underserved by the food system.

Since first founded in 1985, FoodShare’s visionary leadership has pioneered long-term replicable solutions, and cultivated public empowerment and awareness of food issues. FoodShare believes that high-quality affordable healthy food should be universally available, and advocates for policy change needed to address the root causes of hunger.

The Cross-Cultural Food Access Innovation Hub

Through the Cross-Cultural Food Access Innovation Hub, FoodShare supports local solutions to address systems of oppression and exclusion in the food system. With this work, FoodShare has made it a priority to work with members of the indigenous community (the Three Sisters’ House/Nswo Nshiimenhig Endaayat), the African-Caribbean community (the Black Farmers and Growers Collective) as well as the New Comers community (Thorncliffe Park Women’s Committee), by providing organizational resources to support these community-led groups.

Food Justice Network

FoodShare Toronto animates a Food Justice Network in partnership with Food Secure Canada. Food Secure Canada is a pan-Canadian alliance of organizations and individuals working together to advance food security and food sovereignty through three inter-locking goals: zero hunger, healthy and safe food, and sustainable food systems. The aim of this network is to elevate food justice understanding and application across the country.

Growing Food and Justice for All - Toronto Local Empowerment Group

At the local level,  FoodShare coordinates the Toronto chapter of the North American Growing Food and Justice for all initiative, which works to dismantle racism and empower low-income and communities of color through sustainable and local agriculture. From May 22-24, we will be hosting for the second time in Toronto a Growing Food Justice by Uprooting Racism Training with facilitators from Growing Power. This training aims to push forward the integration of racial justice principles into the food justice movement, to give hands on tools, to continue a strategic dialogue and to enable an exchange between activists who work in this field.


The following recommendations were put forth:

1. a City wide adoption of the notion of racialized food insecurity. A Racialized group is a group categorized or differentiated on the basis of membership in a racial group. This process becomes the basis through which groups are subjected to differential treatments. This is fairly known when we are talking about poverty, un/underemployment or incarceration, with statistics attesting to the overrepresentation of people of colour and indigenous communities in these instances. But food access is no different. In 2012, PROOF who conducts research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity, released their Report on Household Food Insecurity. The report revealed that 28.2% of surveyed indigenous households in Canada were food insecure, 27.8% for Black households respondents, and 19.8% for recent immigrants to Canada (less than 5 years) compared to a Canadian average of 12.6%.

Recognizing that food insecurity is also racialized would lead to a promotion of community-specific initiatives and move away forom a colour-blind approaches that leave so many of these communities' needs unmet. Adopting this notion would ensure that city planning policies were informed by that lens and propose solutions that lead to structural change, directly challenging systemic racism in the City.

For example, the Urban Heart Indicator that was used last year to determine the new Neighborhood Improvement Areas in Toronto limited its analysis of food security to the presence of healthy food stores. A more thorough analysis informed with the notion of racialized food insecurity at its core would have looked at ethnic composition of each neighborhood in conjunction with the cultural appropriateness of food, its affordability and income levels to name a few. This in turn would lead to the adoption of solutions at the city level that challenge the root causes of these inequities which are systemic in nature.


2. Increase the availability of trainings for social services and health care professional staff around food justice and inequalities. As first responders directly in contact with food insecure communities, these practitioners must be equipped with the tools to understand how structural racism operates and how this affects the dynamic of their work in these communities. The training we are hosting next week is but one example of the initiatives that should be more readily available across the city and that have the potential to truly change the narrative of food insecurity.

3. Increased city dedicated resources and staff (food justice/equity animators) to work with communities most impacted by food injustice to ensure that their voices are heard and are central to the solution process. From our experience, we see an increased difficulty of getting funding for community-led groups already doing a lot of the frontline food justice work, and more often than not as volunteers. Appropriate support must be given so that they are in a position to lead the charge.

When funds are made available, a common way for these unincorporated grassroots initiatives to receive them is to enter into a trustee relationship with a larger organization. But these relationships can put the grassroot organization in a vulnerable position, as paternalistic dynamics can easily arise, leaving the grassroots far from an empowering experience. Additionally, the paperwork and bureaucratic obligations when funds are made available can be so heavy that they take precious time away from the organization’s much needed groundwork. A funding stream at the city level more adapted to the structural nature of these grassroots would increase the impact of the City’s support.

Nydia Dauphin is the Food Justice Senior coordinator at FoodShare Toronto


Growing Food & Justice Initiative (GFJI)

Food Forward has been supporting the development of the Growing Food and Justice For All Initiative (GFJI) Local Empowerment Group (LEG). Soon after our founding we began discussing the connections between food, equity and racism/oppression in Toronto, and soon connected with folks from Afri-Can Food BasketGreen Thumbs Growing Kids, and others who did early work in food justice and in forming GFJI and Toronto’s LEG. Food Forward staff and volunteers, Caitlin Langois Greenham, Linda Swanston, Vanessa Ling Yu, and Darcy Higgins (see here) have been working collaboratively to support the convening and strategic planning for our LEG, which plans to be an active food justice contributor in Toronto, connected as a strong partner of the international movement. In 2011, we provided anti-oppression training for Food Forward volunteers and members with positive interest, and a desire for more practical applications in community settings.

Most recently, Vanessa with others from Toronto visited Growing Power in Chicageo to attend GFJI’s Intensive Leadership Facilitator Training: A Dismantling Racism through the Food System to further develop her roster of knowledge and skills around racial healing through food, and connect with the broader community of food justice activists. We are also pleased to connect with Hurly Navarro-Meraveles, Project Coordinator of Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants (OCASI) Positive Spaces Initiative and Food Forward advisor to deepen our examination of gender and sexual identities and newcomer communities, as we make anti-oppression relevant to our every day work together.

In 2013, we are excited to move forward with further anti-oppression training for Food Forward members and friends and supporting diversity work in the food and environmental movements with our partners in collaboration with the Sustainability Network and significant volunteer support from Sabrina Bowman. We also look forward to sharing key next steps for action from the growth of the GFJI network locally and welcome further participation. GFJI Toronto LEG does not yet have a website, so contact Darcy to get involved and join the listserv. 


Food Forward Outstanding Member: Linda Swanston and Elena Hall

Recognizes the commitment and contributions of a Food Forward individual member towards our mission, by supporting the design and implementation of our projects, development, capacity, and/or outreach. Also considers independent work the individual has contributed to related good food projects or policies through education, advocacy, and making connections.

We have two selections who have both contributed immensely to Food Forward and to the broader community. In one short and action packed year, Elena Hall has visioned, planned, and broken ground for the first hospital food garden in Toronto.

Working in partnership with the Scadding Court Community Centre to secure a garden plot, Elena recruited over 20 volunteers to the Feed to Seed team and coordinates twice-weekly gardening sessions. Members from across the hospital community are involved, patients, staff, and survivors. The food is used in the ELLICSR kitchen for cooking demonstrations for community members touched by cancer, and the remainder of the harvest is donated to the Fort York Food Bank.

With an ambitious agenda to obtain onsite garden space and bring good fresh sustainable food into hospital kitchens across the University Health Network Elena is truly passionate in her commitment to good food in healthcare, organizing the Seed to Feed garden outside of her full-time role as a clinical study coordinator.

Elena came to Food Forward as a nutritionist interested in improving food, especially in her work at hospitals. She has been a committed volunteer with Food Forward, and especially in creating events, discussions, and connecting players to advocate and change food at hospitals. Using these connections, she created partnered with Scadding Court after a Foodie Drinks event, starting a unique hospital-community centre partnership to make things happen.

Elena has worked with our other awardee, Linda Swanston, whose early leadership within Food Forward brought the idea to lead our work on improving hospital food. Her work - solely volunteering - has pushed this agenda, writing blogs, hosting events, and getting media coverage in the City, and connecting players and moving things forward behind the scenes.

In addition to this, Linda has worked with us to prioritize a discussion of food justice to the forefront of the food movement in Toronto. After connecting on the need for discussion on food and racism, we soon connected with the Growing Food and Justice Initiative, where Linda spent a significant amount of work to support the group to accomplish its goals.

She has been a supporter of Food Forward since the beginning, and has brought critical feedback, guidance and action in our work. This includes advocacy and our efforts to reach out and grow the organization and the movement. And she’s been personally supportive of many of us. We would like to provide them with the Food Forward Oustanding Member Awards.

Check out some of our work on better food in health care and Linda's blogs.


Sharing Stories and Growing Food Justice in Toronto

Anan's Story: Growing Food Justice in Toronto from FoodShed on Vimeo.

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,  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 non-profit 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:

                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 invisible backpack 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 head-on 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 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

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. <>