Food Forward's team and friends in Toronto-Danforth, like many in the riding, are concerned about food justice. We've therefore put forth the following questions to our candidates in the March 19 by-election.
We hope to hear back from them before voting day, and will pass on their answers to these questions on this blog post, so come back. Info on candidates and voting is here.
Question 1) How will you support community food projects to improve access to healthy, local and affordable food for food insecure residents in the North parts of Toronto-Danforth where fewer services exist?
Question 2) Toronto-Danforth has had a boom of sustainable food businesses and markets and residents choosing to buy local, along with a tradition of diverse food culture. What kind of food do you enjoy from the riding and how would you support creating local food jobs?
Question 3) Do you support the establishment of a national food policy? If so, what would it include, and how would you incorporate local input in its development?
Grant Gordon, Liberal Party of Canada
Q1: One in five children live below the poverty line, which may lead to poor nutritional status and poor child-health outcomes. School nutrition programmes are hugely effective in providing children with nutritious diets, which clearly lead to better cognitive abilities and health. Kids with a full stomach learn better. But, unfortunately, Canada is one of the few developed countries without a national nutrition programme. This is something I think we need to change, and quickly.
Outside North America, school meals are viewed as an investment, rather than a cost; if it helps kids to learn, it’s good for our economy! So improving student nutrition, health and social development feeds regional economic development. In Brazil, food is a constitutional right and a massive programme feeds 47 million students at 190,000 schools each day! Surely Canada can try to compete with that!
Establishing a school-meals programme will be one of the best ways we can help residents of our riding who have trouble making ends meet. Focusing on locally grown produce to help support our farmers, while providing quality nutrition with a limited environmental impact, is the best way I can think of handling this issue. We have to work together locally to support local kids.
Within the riding itself, we can see the impact of the weekly Farmer's Market in Withrow Park and in front of the East York City Hall through spring, summer and fall seasons. These Markets are well loved by people in the riding. There's also a brilliant farmers’ market each weekend in the Brickworks, which is just outside of the riding, but less than a stone’s throw away. It garners attention from across the city.
So, it’s simple: let’s work together, farmers, marketers, school officials, nutritionists, parents, and make sure we are feeding kids with both food and knowledge!
Q2: I’m a true believer in sustainability. Factory farms and mistreatment of animals do not fit into that picture. Period. I believe in supporting a local-food economy and my family and I choose to eat sustainable, locally-grown, organic and naturally-sourced foods whenever possible. Again, period. If elected, I’ll do everything I can to support local farmers and promote a local food economy, thereby steering consumers away from the factory farm model. I also agree with the David Suzuki Foundation's research condemning fish farms, and would work to educate Canadians about sustainable fish choices. We really have to practice what we preach in our own lives. It’s the true way to not only get sustainability but lead towards sustainability.
Q3: The Liberal Party has committed itself to helping Canadians eat healthier, homegrown food through a new national food policy based on healthy eating, safe food, sustainable farm incomes, environmental farmland stewardship and international leadership.
While farmers and our agri-food sector provide one out of every eight jobs and generate $42 billion in annual economic activity, the economic crisis has strained this pillar of our rural communities – that is to say, our farms – to the breaking point. We need a food programme, to ensure we’re eating local, and less sugar, fat and salt. This programme and this idea means we need:
○ Sustainable farm incomes, with a Clean Slate Commitment to build practical, bankable farm programs in partnership with farmers and restore AgriFlex to offer regionally flexible programs that help meet the costs of production;
○ Healthy living, including an $80-million Buy Local Fund to promote farmers markets and home-grown foods, a $40-million Healthy Start program to help 250,000 low-income children access healthy foods, introducing progressive health labelling and tough standards on trans fats, and launching a Healthy Choices program to help Canadians make informed eating decisions;
○ Safe Food, by implementing all of the Weatherill report recommendations and investing $50 million in improving food inspections and ensuring imported foods meet our tough domestic standards;
○ Environmental farmland stewardship, by strengthening Environmental Farm Plans, improving fertilizer and pesticide management, and rewarding farmers for their role in clean energy production and protecting wildlife habitat; and
○ International leadership, to promote Canadian food internationally and expand Canada’s share of high-value export markets while also fostering food security in Africa and the world’s poorest nations.
Christopher Porter, Canadian Action Party
Q1: Local food projects need the full attention of the Federal Government. There needs to be dedicated support for such projects. We cannot simply talk sustainability... we need to be sustainable.
Q2: I love the diversity of the foods in the Riding. It truly is one of the few jewels in the world where you can have a taste of the world for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Preference must be placed on funding for local food initiatives. Tax breaks need to occur with local food initiatives not corporate expansion of factory foods.
Q3: I would support a National Food Policy that places local food above corporate factory food. Canada is a vast land that can easily feed all its citizens and enrich the world with our knowledge and ability to sustain ourselves. We must be leaders in this for the world and a National Plan that is 100% local and sustainable would do that.
Adriana Mugnatto-Hamu, Green Party of Canada
Q1. There are two initiatives that I have encouraged and would hope to promote as an MP.
One is local production, which is encouraged in a number of ways already, ranging from guerilla gardening to communal harvesting of fruit trees to larger community garden initiatives like allotment gardens and the project on Broadview just south of Danforth. In all cases, at least some portion of the produce has been contributed to community food programmes.
The other initiative that I know of involves buying clubs that enable residents who have a hard time purchasing organics to buy select foods in bulk.
I am also inspired by group kitchens that share and teach residents to economically create delicious and nutritious meals. I have recently heard that such a programme exists in Toronto-Danforth and I am looking forward to learning more about it.
Q2. My food shopping and preferences have 3 distinct priorities. One priority is to reduce my environmental footprint, so I like to purchase locally grown organics whenever possible. Another priority is supporting cultural enclaves. I am thrilled that we can sample authentic cuisine (as well as music, dance and art) from around the world in this delightful city, and that our cultural centres are magnets that attract visitors from across the city. My third priority is supporting small local independent businesses. I am also a vegetarian, as are two of my children, so that adds another constraint on my food purchases.
It is often impossible to get authentic ethnic cuisine that's also locally grown or organic, so my food purchases are a bit of a hodge-podge.
I have shopped at the Big Carrot for years. I also like to support Rowe Farms, though as a vegetarian, I can only enjoy a small portion of what they offer. One of the places that always makes me feel virtuous is the St. John's Bakery, which has delicious bread, much of it baked with locally-grown organic heritage flour. Not only is it yummy, but the bakery provides an opportunity for Toronto's homeless to learn a valued skill.
We live just a couple blocks away from East Chinatown, and I'm continually amazed at the incredible variety, economy and quality of produce available. In the mornings, I stand in awe as produce is neatly stacked at superhuman speed. I enjoy pretty much every ethnic restaurant - Ethiopian, Indian, Greek, Thai, Chinese, you name it.
Q3. Food security is increasingly important and deserves attention. Any programme that reduces the environmental footprint of food will increase food security, both because it relocalizes food production and because it increases the efficiency of food production. I would promote a number of directions.
One focus is insisting on a fair cost for the impacts of farming, both for food grown here and for food imports. There is an environmental cost to the use of pesticides and other agricultural toxins that filter through our soils and into our rivers and lakes. There is a cost to using emissions-intensive energy in farming. If food reflected its true cost, we would naturally see a shift to more energy efficient farming, local production and a reduction in pollutants.
Another focus is the diversification of local production. Ontario used to produce almost all the food that was grown here. Now we import most of what we eat and grow select crops for export. Meanwhile, Ontario's population now actually represents more global diversity. We should not only get back to growing the diversity of foods we used to have, we should encourage growing bok choy right here in Ontario.
Bahman Yazdanfar, Independent candidate
Q1. Definitely, anything that can promote a healthy life should be considered seriously and without political interference. Not only should local, affordable, and accessible produce be utilized, mandatory training and education should be provided for those who purchase and resell food to the public, as well as advertising through media for public awareness.
Areas that can be related to community food, directly or indirectly, and fall under Federal jurisdiction, are Health, Environment, Money and Banking, Trade Regulation, and Transportation. Although food projects in our riding is strictly municipal, or at most a Provincial issue, there is a need for growth of a national network of Canadian farmers and distribution of fresh, healthy produce within and between cities, and provinces.
Q2. I enjoy a variety of foods since I was born in the Middle East, and had the opportunity to travel extensively, prior to my arrival in Canada. As a result, I do not discriminate when it comes to food. Fortunately in Toronto – Danforth one can find dozens of ethnic foods from Chinese to African food, and anything in between. Therefore, I enjoy each and every one of them on its own merit.
As an Independent MP, I could introduce a bill for the development of community food initiatives and projects for the purpose of promoting the self-sufficiency of lower income communities, as well as food and farm security. Providing financial incentives, grants and tax credit to motivate those who want to get involved as small and medium business operators in this industry and hire local employees from all demographic groups.
Q3. Not only do I support a nation–wide policy for local food and farmers, I encourage the establishment of a volunteer–based local constituency, by participation of local people, to oversee the progress of the initiatives put forward by all levels of governments.
This can be done by presenting the environmental, economical, and health benefits of local food to the responsible ministries and engaging them to have a bi-directional, or tri-directional in this case, dialogue with each other.
Craig Scott, New Democratic Party
Q1. Municipal co-operation and support is key to successful community food projects. Particularly in under-served areas, community groups need concrete resources, such as land and infrastructure, as well as real partnerships to work through any procedural issues. Too often, it seems like government can stand in the way. But when you have such passion and organization around a critical issue, with exciting projects like community shared agriculture, urban gardening, local food stores, school breakfast and lunch programs, it`s important for all levels of government to come on board and be committed. I would be a champion as I think these initiatives are critically important for urban communities to thrive.
Income disparity is also central to issues of food insecurity. Study after study shows that health and poverty are inter-linked. The NDP`s commitment to lifting Canadians out of poverty, particularly children, seniors, and new immigrants, would help the most vulnerable and isolated afford healthy food. I think these structural issues are particularly the responsibility of the Federal Government, and the NDP will work to make these issues front and centre on the national stage.
Q2. I enjoy Vietnamese food from Mi Mi's, Indian and Pakistani food from Lahore Tika, samosas from Nadeem's shop, and Sushi Delight. I love Greek food from the Palace on Pape, and from several other places on the Danforth.
The great thing about local food jobs is they provide a tangible and direct service while building community. I think that the more we can develop supports for community projects and small-scale entrepreneurs, the more successful these initiatives will be. On a business level, the NDP`s small business tax credit is one example. Successful businesses are also dependent on broader market development, ensuring that there are enough spaces for community residents to interact with different kinds of farmers and businesses. This ties in to transportation, having lots of foot traffic and making things easy and accessible. Personally, I think local food should be everywhere, not just at the farmer`s market once a week.
On a national level, we need to develop and implement an alternative and appropriate food safety regulatory regime for small, farm-gate operations. The Federal Government must ensure that we have a food safety regime that is thorough and protects the health of Canadians. But it shouldn’t be tailored to suit the needs of only the biggest producers. Smart regulations can keep our food safe while making room for small-scale local production and farm-gate sales.
Finally we need to ensure there are no impediments in international trade deals to promoting buy local initiatives at municipal or provincial levels. We want to ensure international commerce and investment is a motor for job growth in Canada, and does not handcuff the ability of municipalities or other levels of government from ensuring local spinoffs and benefits from Canadian or foreign investment.
Q3. Absolutely! The NDP has a long history of developing national food policy. In 2010, Alex Atamenenko went on a 29 city tour across Canada and developed a discussion paper Food for Thought: Towards A National Food Strategy. A lot of important issues came up in that tour, and I encourage you to take a look at the document.
In brief, I think we need a comprehensive approach to dealing with food issues. We need to create a dialogue between health, agriculture, social welfare, business and housing sectors, to name a few, to better combat the complex issues that make up problems like hunger in Canada. I have seen this referred to as a `joined-up` approach in documents like the People`s Food Policy. This is the direction I would advocate for.
While the direct regulation and funding of local food production and markets falls largely to the municipal and provincial level, the people of Toronto Danforth can count on me as a committed ally to supporting local food initiatives in our community and helping them to grow in the future. I will ensure that your voices are heard at the national table.