Building a Red-Green Food Movement

By Johnston, Josee | Canadian Dimension, September-October 2003 | Go to article overview

Building a Red-Green Food Movement


Johnston, Josee, Canadian Dimension


It might seem easy to find agreement on the joys of good food that is lovingly prepared, nutritious, delicious and enjoyed in the company of friends and family. Yet ensuring universal access to good food is more complex and challenging than nostalgia for a home-cooked meal. Power, inequality and privilege are interlarded within struggles for good food. Despite our best intentions, Canadians face serious food-related pathologies: greater food insecurity, growing numbers of food banks, rising obesity statistics, breathtaking rates of eating disorders, and an unsustainable mode of agro-industrial production that sheds farmers as quickly as it degrades topsoil.

Is it viable to expect these issues--particularly the social/equity concerns of the "reds" and the ecological agenda of the "greens"--to coalesce in a single food-security movement? FoodShare, a Toronto-based community., food-security organization, answers this question with a resounding yes, insisting that food can inspire social action against ecological and social injustice.

Community Food Security through FoodShare

Community food security (CFS) unites ecology and social justice almost by definition; these approaches define themselves as attempts to build locally based systems of production and consumption that support justice, democracy and sustainability. Yet uniting red and green issues on paper is easier than reconciling ecological concerns and social justice within an organization--let alone in a larger food movement. The CFS approach is not without its critics. Most significantly, it been charged with having a middleclass bias and for developing an inadequate response to the severity of food insecurity in neoliberal welfare states. School snack programs don't solve the problems of student nutrition, community gardens have not stemmed the steady growth of food banks, and community kitchens don't eliminate the food insecurity, of low-income families.

The FoodShare mandate explicitly endorses CFS goals, promoting universal access to culturally, acceptable, nutritionally adequate sustainable food through non-emergency channels. Like a food bank, FoodShare is concerned about hunger. Unlike a conventional food bank, however, FoodShare works on a smaller scale and within a longer time frame to develop more sustainable food links from field to table. FoodShare's programs include community gardens, training and employment for youth at risk, roof-top gardening, public education campaigns, baby-food-making classes, an incubator kitchen project and catering company, and a Good Food Box program that anchors the organization in the Field to Table warehouse in the east end of downtown Toronto.

The initial FoodShare vision was not particularly green or radical. When it was created in 1985, FoodShare was originally envisaged by Art Eggleton, then mayor, as a way to coordinate access to the emergency food sector, and as a self-promotion tool for his reelection campaign. FoodShare still runs a hotline that refers callers to food banks, but the "Hunger Hotline" was renamed "FoodLink," and now also contains information on community gardens, farmers' markets and community-supported agriculture. This change in name embodies a more general shift toward community development programs and sustainable food provisioning, and away from a charity-based model of immediate hunger relief.

The Good Food Box Program

FoodShare's move towards a community development approach has not been easy, automatic, or uncontroversial. Simultaneously balancing environmental goals with income redistribution is an exceptionally difficult, often contradictory, task. Delivering an organic produce box that is accessible to low-income consumers is a near impossibility, since paying small farmers fairly means produce prices above those at Price Chopper. At least half of the patrons of the regular Good Food Box program are low-income Torontonians, yet the program is still unable to reach the poorest and most marginalized populations relying on food banks. …

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