food system


No time to wait on food policy - how everything's coming together

It's quite a time for food security, as the provincial government speaks to several ways of moving forward, criss-crossing policy reports, legislation, and ideas on food policy. We've also never had a civil society so engaged in working towards food policy change.

The government is finally planning to move forward on social assistance through the results of its review, which had key recommendations on employment and rates of support. We've participated in advocacy on raising rates from the Put Food in the Budget campaign, and hope it moves forward.

Meanwhile, a government commissioned report was titled "No Time to Wait"... it's a strategy released for policy actions for healthy kids, with a preventative health focus. and food is the main and most extensive set of its recommendations. One of the proposals is to ban marketingof junk food to children. Something already proposed in a private member's bill by NDP MPP Rosario Marchese.

Another of its proposal is to provide incentives for food businesses to support community-based food programs, which has been proposed in a private member's bill by PC MPP Bob Bailey.

Minister of Health Deb Matthew agreed that we they need to move now as the title suggests. 

The PCs last week released an agriculture strategy with some excellent ideas on supporting food processors and local farmers with a new food hub, and a review of regulations, something we're also working to advance.

Further still, we are expecting the re-release of the Local Food Act, something Premier (and food+ag minister) Kathleen Wynne has committed to strengthening.

This approach to food policy coming from here and there and everywhere isn't new for governments at all levels, which respond to food through all sorts of departments and policies. 

The benefits of integrating food policy however have been touted at all levels, by Food Secure Canada and Sustain Ontario, and has been done to an extent at the municipal level, with a Food Strategy for the City of Toronto.

Bringing the pieces of food policies on the table under a broader provincial food strategy would help streamline the solutions that could support everyone from farmers to eaters to develop a healthier province. It would also recognize the ability of one policy to have multiple benefits for several desirable social outcomes.

It's an excellent time to move on food policy for several reasons:

  •  New food policies meet Premier Wynne's objectives and throne speech, like supporting job growth in rural Ontario and supporting small businesses to create jobs in the City and suburbs, while also creating a more socially just province.
  •  Everything's coming together - food policies are making headway through all of these recommendations and the government understands the benefit of fast action.
  •  As parties begin to cooperate more (it's actually happening, a little!) in this minority government, we can take look to food policies that will get support from multiple parties like the ones we're advocating for. And all MPPs will see the differences these policies can make in their communities.
  •  A Local Food Act is to be launched from a Premier who says she is ready to listen to Ontarians... the more ambitious the Act, the more results we get for jobs and health outcomes.

Three policies we've landed on that would create jobs in good food have shown growing resonance from workers and entrepreneurs, organizations, and the people of Ontario who have signed on from across the province. We think these have great a chance of support from different parties in the Act and in the budget:

  1. Public institutions purchase of local, socially and environmentall sustainable food;
  2. A review of regulations that hamper small food and farm enterprises;
  3. Support and funding for community food programs and social entrepreneurs in low income communities.
Food Forward and folks from around the province are ready to promote legislation that can get these things done, to show examples of good food policy in action and hopefully in a more connected and strategic way.

Darcy Higgins is the Executive Director of Food Forward. You can contact him at


Bien manger pour mieux vivre!

October 31 2012

by Xavier Lambert

Read en français dans LE MÉTROPOLITAIN about World Food Day Toronto and some of the work being done to address hunger and food access in Toronto and Regent Park. 

Connect with good food work in Toronto-Centre through our Food For Ward Facebook group, and read more from the Christian Resource Centre on their work and the joint Regent Park Food Partnership. We agree with David Reycraft that government must act on hunger, and are excited to profile the work being done by the community.

« J’ai faim! », c’est en ces termes que Nick Saul de la banque alimentaire The Stop s’est adressé à son auditoire au centre Daniels Spectrum situé dans le quartier de Regent Park. Il reprenait les mots d’un jeune homme qu’il avait rencontré il y a peu de temps à un feu rouge à une intersection de la ville. 

« Je n’oublierai jamais son regard intense », avouait le directeur.

La dizaine d’intervenants invités le soir du 16 octobre, date choisie par l’Organisation des Nations Unies pour l’alimentation et l’agriculture comme étant la Journée mondiale de l’alimentation, à venir parler de la malnutrition à Toronto. Tous n’ont pas manqué de faire un constat inquiétant à propos du manque d’équité et d’accès à une alimentation saine pour beaucoup de nos concitoyens. 

Les statistiques sont alarmantes quand on apprend que la moitié des Torontois n’ont pas un accès facile à des produits frais et sains pour des raisons financières, d’éloignement ou des problèmes de mobilité. Les banques alimentaires ont reçu un million de visites au cours des 12 derniers mois, signe annonciateur d’une situation qui s’empire. 

« Nous aidons des personnes de plus en plus âgées ou de plus en plus jeunes », souligne David Reycraft, directeur du foyer pour sans-abri Dixon Hall. Son centre est justement situé près du quartier de Regent Park, un endroit qui reçoit un nombre important de francophones venus de pays africains comme le Congo ou le Burundi. Dans un excellent français, le directeur explique que d’autres arrivent à Toronto en suivant « les routes de la faim » qui prennent leur origine dans les Maritimes, le Québec ou bien le nord de l’Ontario. Le français figure au deuxième rang parmi les langues en croissance dans ce quartier désigné par la municipalité comme étant une zone prioritaire. 

Celina Agaton, directrice de l’organisme Films That Move et organisatrice de l’événement, ainsi que Darcy Higgins de l’organisme Food Forward, constatent qu’il existe à Toronto des « déserts », zones dans lesquelles il n’y a pas de magasins de produits frais. Les résidents doivent alors se nourrir d’une alimentation de qualité inférieure. De graves problèmes de santé s’ensuivent, nombreux sont ceux qui par exemple souffrent du diabète.


Photo : Soupe de légumes avec de la truite servie dans une moitié de melon.


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


Ontario Election 2011: Time for Good Food

Join Sustain Ontario, Food Forward and other partners as we build a campaign to create food policy change in the next election. Comment on one of this or Sustain's blog with questions or to get involved. We'll really be collaborating across sectors to achieve big success. Get ready, and we hope your organization or friends can help organize in your riding - our resources will help.

by Ravenna Barker and Wayne Roberts

Three huge issues will be front and centre in Ontario’s 2011 election – health, health and health. All three issues – medical health, economic health and environmental health – have one thing in common. Good food is indispensable to success with all of them.

With growing awareness of the importance, value, and potential of food across Ontario this could be the year that food finds its rightful place at the policy table. In Ontario today there is no food ministry, minister, office, department, legislation, plan or strategy. As a result we’re missing out on great opportunities to create jobs– the food sector has already become Ontario’s top employer; improve health promotion and generate huge medical savings; create lively and welcoming communities; engage students and make curricula relevant; and improve our air, soil, water and wildlife habitat. Food can make all of these things happen – but it won’t until there’s coordination across ministries, jurisdictions, communities and businesses.

Sustain Ontario’s job is to bring together a wide range of food-related community and stakeholder groups across the province. Our non-partisan goal is to help the government get its act together with food. We’d like to see all parties integrate a focus on food into their platforms, taking advantage of the opportunities that come from managing the food file in an integrated way.

Read more, including policy ideas: