food justice


Food justice & the Toronto-Danforth By-election

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.


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. <>


Media Advisory: City Hall picnic Monday to oppose cuts

Saturday, September 23, 2011

Toronto food advocacy group, Food Forward, is inviting Torontonians to join outside City Hall for a picnic during lunch break of Monday's Budget Council meeting to share a healthy meal and chalk their vision of the City, preceding larger evening rallies.

"Cuts take a bite out of the core of suburban and downtown Toronto, and we're meeting to share that message," said Darcy Higgins, Executive Director of Food Forward.  "Reducing valuable services like community hubs, grants, food and health programs across the board will hurt Toronto's most vulnerable the hardest.  A better budget is possible."

Ward 18 Councillor Ana Bailao will be presenting a petition at Council Monday morning that asksit to stop cuts to environmental and food programs and to work more closely with Toronto residents to enhance community use of parks.  Programs such as Live Green Toronto are at risk, while users of Dufferin Grove and other parks have faced barriers in operating community food programs in public places.

"City services provided by the Toronto Environment Office give Torontonians the ability to learn food growing skills in their neighbourhoods and build healthier, stronger communities," said Abra Snider, General Manager of Fresh City Farms, a new business that grows food in the City.

City Councillors of all stripes have already come out against cuts.  Councillor Josh Matlow recently said in a statement, "I will not support reducing the work done by the Toronto Environment Office (TEO) and the Toronto Atmospheric Fund which, in many cases, have saved the City significant money while contributing to protecting our natural environment and public health."


Details: Nathan Phillips Square, 12:30-2:00PM, Monday, September 26

Contact: Darcy Higgins, 416-459-9975



Our Café in the Park

Food Forward has been supporting the community food connections to help get a unique project off the ground in St. James Town.  Our member and cafe organizer, Rebecca blogged about its launch event, intended to outreach and build further support.  Our Education Intern Caitlin Greenham and Executive Director, Darcy Higgins spoke at the event on engaging in the municipal budget and provincial election.  Partnerships made this happen, with resident support along with organizations such as Low Income Families Together (LIFT), Toronto Green Community and many neighbourhood organizations.  More photos will be shared on our Facebook group.

Below is from Rebecca's blog, The First Day:

While I haven’t been writing, I haven’t given in to despair. I have been busy working on a project to engage people to enjoy and advocate for for healthy affordable food. Our plan is to establish a co- operative community café where people from many economic and cultural groups can talk, organize, eat, drink, cook, listen to music, and join in growing and preparing food and buying affordable organic food through a food buying club.
Through the amazing connection-making powers of Nancy and Jo, and many others, we have built a strong network of people and organizations who are helping make this project happen (we’re still looking for more – if you’re interested!) On Friday August 19, we held the first trial run of the community café, and it was a fantastic success! 
While we work now on securing funds and a permanent space, we're also looking forward to the next café in the park, on September 23!

Thank you to Jeffrey Chan for the fantastic photos!