Q&A with Paul Taylor of FoodShare

“Everyone has a right to food, not charity, not leftovers”

I have one plan for the holidays: stop working and eat. My fantasy is to have long stretches of doing nothing, falling asleep under a novel on the couch, punctuated by time-luxurious meal prep in the kitchen.

I want to cook big meals for my family and bake a million fiddly cookies, balancing the ROI of late-night baking efforts versus dazzle-effect (are these windowpane cookies worth it?). 

It’s pretty standard to be thinking a lot about food at this time of year. But during this Very Weird Time, even something as simple as holiday food feels polarized. I’m wondering what cookies to bake at a time when food insecurity, exacerbated by the financially destabilizing effect of the pandemic, has skyrocketed. [1]

This week on the podcast I host, What Do We Do Tomorrow? we featured Paul Taylor, CEO of FoodShare, a food justice organization in Toronto. We connected to talk specifically about their anti-racism approach to food systems.

A post shared by Institute for Cdn Citizenship (@inclusion.ca)

I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this conversation since. Food is top of mind at this time of year and due to the urgency of the pandemic, hunger is, too.

Paul told me he developed his approach to food justice while working in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside community:

Everyone has a right to food, not a right to charity, not a right to hand-outs, not a right to someone else's leftovers, but the right to food. And that really informed our approach to advocacy.

Paul Taylor photograph by Sandro Pehar


Over five million Canadians experience food insecurity, meaning they have gone hungry at least once in the previous month. Yes, five million people. In Canada.

Indigenous and Black households in Canada experience food insecurity to a disproportionate degree. In Nunavut, where over 80% of the population is Inuit, over half the population of experiences food insecurity. So yes, hunger is absolutely an issue of systemic racism.

It hardly seems that a solution could be as simple as donating non-perishable items.

FoodShare is not a food bank. Instead, it takes a systemic approach to addressing the root causes of hunger.

FoodShare was opened in 1985, which is four years after the first food bank opened in this country in 1981. It became clear to FoodShare that food being made available through food banks wasn't necessarily optimal. Folks are going to food banks and they're being given things that look like food, but often lack nutrients and the fuel that people need.

So FoodShare's approach isn’t about redistribution of other people's leftovers or corporate waste, it's about beautiful, fresh, grade-A produce. And we work with communities to actually build community-run food assets in those communities so we don't have middle-class, lovely white folks from another neighbourhood coming to volunteer and hand out food.

We talked about all the ways in which people are failed before they experience food insecurity, such as when they experience systemic racism in the job market, or housing or health care. I asked him about what type of a policy he’d want to see that would have a protective measure against food insecurity.

I think sometimes we have a tendency to get excited about one specific policy and really advocate for that. And I've tried to push back against that kind of thinking because I'm more interested in advancing our fundamental human rights and using that framework to evaluate policies like a basic income, because of course, a basic income on its own doesn't work very well if the cost of housing continues to skyrocket. So if we have a framework that looks at what I call joined-up policy, a combination of public policies intended to advance our human rights, that's when I start to get excited.

I love the phrase “joined-up policy” because it gets at exactly what’s made this year overwhelming. A viral pandemic showed us the nature of our house of cards. The economy, housing, health, labour, education, infrastructure -- they’re all interconnected and systemic racism exists in them all.

Paul cited statistics:

FoodShare partnered with the University of Toronto to research the inter-connections of food insecurity and anti-Black racism. We found things like if you're Black in Canada, you're three and a half times more likely to live in a food insecure household than if you're white. [2]

An example of findings from the research is that the percentage of Black home owners who experience food insecurity is the same as for white renters (14%), a sign that even the protective, financial security of owning a home doesn’t make up for the anti-Blackness experienced by people in various interconnected aspects of life. [3]

Dismantling White Supremacy Box from FoodShare, featuring produce exclusively grown by farms owned, led or run by Black, Indigenous or people of colour


The root causes of hunger don’t start and end with food. But I’ve found that in a super-overwhelming year that includes a pandemic and an ongoing racial reckoning, thinking about food is a way to focus on systemic racism and inequities, by recognizing the ways our world keeps some people fed and others hungry.

And to be clear, I’m not against food banks. I donate to them. There are people sleeping in my neighbourhood park. We’re in an emergency. 

But when I’m looking ahead, it’s not band-aids but bold thinking that makes me want to keep pressing forward, such as when Paul suggests turning golf courses into urban farms, as he wants the city of Toronto to do. [4]

As I try to create a pandemic-cozy holiday situation for my family, I know that lots of the food we bring into our own safe home has been grown and picked by people all along a spectrum of deeply racist systems, including migrant farm workers who are experiencing among the worst of systemically racist policies in Canada and risking COVID-19 exposure, sometimes dying, in the process. This system is so long overdue for complete change. [5]

(Maybe it’s good I can’t visit you during the holidays this year. I’m a real party.)

But this is why it gives me so much energy to talk to someone like Paul Taylor. Knowing more about his work is enough to pull me out of my own cynical despair and renew my energy for tomorrow and 2021. 

I hope this letter does the same for you.

And if you have any ways in which you’re trying to change the way you live at home to reflect what’s going on in the world, I’d love to know about it. Just reply to this email.

Wishing you all the latkes, cookies, cakes, warmth, good health, companionship and clear skies over the holidays. Thank you for reading,

Hannah

You can find the full audio interview with Paul Taylor of FoodShare in episode 4 of What Do We Do Tomorrow? from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship and The Walrus Lab, produced by my bud Noah Sniderman.

At The End Of the Day is edited by green garden queen Ishani Nath 🌱👑


FURTHER READING:

[1] Food insecurity worsening for low-wage workers in Toronto due to pandemic, report shows, CBC

[2] Race and food insecurity, PROOF and FoodShare fact sheet

[3] Food insecurity worse for black Canadians than white Canadians, The Globe and Mail

[4] The post-pandemic future: We’ll turn city lands and golf courses into massive urban farms, Toronto Life

[5] ‘We don’t have winter clothes or boots’: These migrant farm workers toiled through the pandemic. Now they’re stuck in Canada, The Toronto Star

Food banks aren’t the answer to hunger, researchers say, The Toronto Star. “Food charities shouldn’t be normal or institutionalized — advocating for adequate wages and income supports and demanding that large food producers, processors and grocers stop wasting 8.8 million tonnes of food annually should.” Read this!

15 and fairness. More on “joined-up” policy demands.

Where to find FoodShare.

And here are a few notable people to follow who garden with a food and racial justice perspective:

Sundance Harvest, an urban farm run by Cheyenne Sundance, and their project Liberating Lawns

Ron Finley: “My target is humanity.” Love every line in this interview.

…AND A FEW NEWSLETTER FRIENDS TO FOLLOW ✨✨✨

The last real “party” I went to, I popped a bottle of Lambrusco before dinner and settled into a Zoom with several amazingly smart friends who are also writing newsletters. We talked shop and laughed. A lot.

Here are their brainchildren. I highly recommend!

Minimum Viable Planet, a weeklyish newsletter on how to fight the climate crisis by Sarah Lazarovic

Friday Things, a super-smart take on pop culture by Stacy Lee Kong

The KnowHow, interviews with ambitious women doing notable things by Wing Sze Tang