food access

Jul
19

Food Forward's deputation to Economic Development

This week marks a pile of Committee meetings, all looking at the City's Core Service Review and areas that consultants have identified for potential cuts. We have written to the Economic Development Committee to defend the City's work that enhances good food jobs, in response to the report by KPMG, which can be found in the links on the Committee's Agenda, on ED6.1 (see the bottom of the Agenda to see that our letter has been received). Also find links to write Councillors directly with your own thoughts.

We were caught somewhat off guard with the amount of proposed cuts in these reports, as we have been keen to discuss new good food initiatives in the City that could bring new jobs. "Hiddenlicious" mentioned in the letter is a proposal from the Food Strategy we'd like to pursue among many others, but for now, we have to keep what we have, and keep the vision of what could be...

Dear Councillor Thompson and Committee,

I am writing on behalf of Food Forward, a Toronto-based community organization that provides a people's voice for a better food system. We are made up of members throughout the City who believe in a healthy, local food system which supports economic vitality and diversity in Toronto.

We appreciate the difficult task which you as a Committee have been assigned.

Economic development is an important City function. Food, and its 58,000 jobs, is Toronto's second largest employment sector and a key part of economic development work by the City.

The small amount of staff the City dedicated to its Food and Beverage industry cluster has gone a long way in supporting area business growth. The department has been a key ally for local food business in promoting its products. It has also been essential in facilitating the development of new ventures, through seminars and the development of the Toronto Food Business Incubator, which is often cited as an innovative resource for entrepreneurs. The modest Incubator has a an excellent track record, initiating successful new businesses, which hire employees and have lasting positive benefits to the City.

Just last week, the City voted to renew its local food procurement policy with support of all members on this Committee, recognizing the ability of food to be an economic driver in the City of Toronto. Toronto's food economy, second largest in North America (to Los Angeles) is set to continue its growth, with very low business costs (KPMG Competitive Alternatives Study, 2006) and consumer trends which emphasize local, sustainable, healthy and diverse foods. We have seen City staff in this area being very supportive to new entrepreneurs through events and connections that they have supported us in, and hope Torontonians can continue to benefit from these business services.

Our other key area of interest in which the City supports Toronto business and community vitality is the event planning by the City. It is with great enjoyment that Torontonians attend City-sponsored festivals that highlight local food businesses and provide economic opportunities. These festivals show off Toronto's unique diverse food culture to residents and tourists and provide unique benefits to entrepreneurs, often immigrants, who are able to sell to thousands of happy customers and hire staff and purchase food for these events.

Councillors will recognize festivals that happen right outside City Hall, nearly daily occurrences in the summer, that are key spots for area workers and visitors. Events like Summerlicious also attract dollars to be spent at local businesses. We hope that a "Hiddenlicious" festival will one day highlight the hidden gems of Toronto's cuisine that lie especially throughout suburban Toronto where tastes of the world can be found in our own backyard. These services are part of the City's Food Strategy, which looks to leverage food in all City departments upon direction of the City Manager.

Jobs are the base of a strong City of Toronto. As KPMG's report states, reducing services identified in its report would have an impact on the Toronto economy. Continued support from the City will increase the exciting trend of its food sector, through work by economic development and culture, and continue to allow for an vibrant economy with good food jobs at its base.

Thank you for the opportunity to comment.

Darcy Higgins
Executive Director, Food Forward

Jul
14

You win some...

Thank you thank you thank you.

Your support in writing councillors and spreading the word about Toronto's local food policy helped lead to a significant win at City Council today, reversing the threat to the local food procurement policy that arose at Committee two weeks ago (see The Sun article). Good food won 40 to 1, with 4 councillors absent.

The compromise and cooperation by Councillors that led to the motion's passage was a rarely seen occurrence over the extended Council session this week, and is a victory for Toronto's food movement, the environment and Toronto food sector jobs. Only minor changes were made to the final motion which can be found here.

A petition from the Toronto Environmental Alliance along with support from local food processors, Ontario farmers and the Toronto Food Policy Council helped to lead the charge. Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon led the item and negotiations with others on Council and was applauded by colleagues for success on the motion. It proves that a united food movement with citizen action can make a difference at City Hall.

And that's an important note, because not all is good news today. The City's Core Service Review report by KPMG this morning took aim at Parks and Environment, suggesting that the City's urban agriculture program and the entire Toronto Environment Office might be areas to scrap. The report identifies urban ag as a "new and expanding activity area", though suggests it just might not be worth it. The Environment Office runs the Live Green program, which has provided significant grants and support for community food projects throughout the City, and our allotment and community gardens provide access for thousands growing their own food.

So we have to do this again and work together to tell our Councillors that urban agriculture, community food projects and a better environment are critical to the health of all Torontonians.

You can participate next by speaking at the Parks and Environment Committee on Thursday, July 21, when it discusses the core service review. You can register to depute, by contacting Kelly McCarthy by July 20 at noon, at pec@toronto.ca and 416-397-7796. It is important that residents discuss how they use these services, why they are important, and the direction they'd like to see the City take on enabling community kitchens, gardens, markets and bake ovens in our parks.

We can be a healthy City with a vibrant food culture prioritizing access for all, but only if we don't go backwards after so much success. The public feedback portion of the Core Service Review found food security mentioned as a priority time after time, with residents indicating their support for programs that address poverty and marginalization, affordable sustainable food and reduced bureaucratic blocks to community and business projects.

Let us know if you're interested in speaking at Committee, and we can help. After success today, but further threats to healthy food in Toronto, becoming a member of Food Forward is even more important. Join us and let's keep working together for positive change.

Jun
30

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

Jun
13

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!