Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Feeding the "Greenest City": Historicizing "Local," Labour, and the Postcolonial Politics of Eating

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Urban Research

Feeding the "Greenest City": Historicizing "Local," Labour, and the Postcolonial Politics of Eating

Article excerpt


Employing a feminist "post"-colonial analysis, this text reflects on the invisibility of racialized agricultural labourers, and the ways in which temporary foreign worker programs reinscribe racial hierarchies and historical functions of empire. In establishing a context for present-day exclusions, I examine emerging research on Chinese farming in what is now Vancouver, roughly from the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway (1885) to the end of the "exclusion era" (1947). Offering a counter-narrative to the assumption that 'local food' is inherently more ethical and sustainable, this analysis interrogates idealized notions of local food production. Highlighting continuities between historical racial hierarchies and contemporary state-sanctioned exclusions, I assert that inequalities are not coincidental by-products of the agricultural system but are central to Canadian food production. The existence of temporary foreign worker programs is the latest solution to critical "cheap" labour shortages and the permanent demand for this labour in the agricultural sector.

Keywords: local food, low wage labour, Vancouver, British Columbia, Chinese farms


Le texte ci-dessous emploie une analyse feministe, << poste >>-coloniale, qui tient compte de l'invisibilite des travailleurs agricole racialises, et les facons dont les programmes de travailleurs etrangers temporaires reinscrivent les hierarchies raciales et les fonctions traditionnelles de l'empire. En etablissant une contexte qui comprend les exclusions actuelles, j'examine la recherche nouvelle au sujet d'agriculture chinois, a ce qui est presentement Vancouver, des l'achevement du chemin de fer de Canadien Pacifique (1885), jusqu'a la fin de << l'ere d'exclusion >> (1947). En offrant une narrative qui contredit l'assomption que les << aliments locaux >> sont intrinsequement plus equitables et plus durables, cette analyse interroge les notions idealisees en ce qui concerne la production alimentaire locale. Soulignant les continuites existantes entres les hierarchies raciales historiques et les exclusions actuelles sanctionnees par l'etat, j'affirme que les inegalites ne sont pas simplement des sous-produits concomitants du systeme agricole, mais qu'ils sont au coeur de la production alimentaire canadienne. L'elaboration de programmes de travailleurs etrangers temporaires est la solution la plus recente pour contrer la penurie critique de la main d'oeuvre << a bon marche >> et la demande permanente de ce genre de travail au secteur agricole.

Mots cles: aliments locaux, travail a bon marche, Vancouver, Colombie-Britannique, agriculture Chinois


"... No Dogs and Chinese Allowed"

Those legendary wordsframed the entrance to a park in British-ruled Hong Kong.

Perhaps that's why some Chinese eat dogs.

--Elaine Woo, "They Eat Dogs" (2010) (1)

"Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es."

--Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, Physiologie du Gout, ou Meditations de Gastronomie Transcendante (1826)

The Vancouver farmers market at the height of the summer harvest offers stacks of biodynamic beets, mounds of fragrant figs and champagne peaches, pink oyster mushrooms, and an heirloom rainbow of carrots. An army of well-groomed dogs hunts for fallen french fries to the tune of Beethoven's "Ode to Joy" as performed by a trio of schoolchildren on tinny violins, their quavering harmonies punctuated by an occasional (endearingly) sour note. But for the startlingly high price tags, the farmers' market experience is an overwhelmingly pleasant contrast to the fluorescent lights and power pop soundtracks of big box food retail.

Adrift in this bucolic haze, the visitor is faced not only with markers of plenty, but also with the slogan: "You are what you eat. Prepare to meet your maker." Who selected this passage, and were they aware of the explicit social justice message of the Book of Amos? …

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