Black food independence initiative set for Toronto

A citizens group has set out to establish Black food sovereignty in Canada’s largest city – the first of its kind in North America. On Wednesday, in one of the first moves of its…

Black food independence initiative set for Toronto

A citizens group has set out to establish Black food sovereignty in Canada’s largest city – the first of its kind in North America.

On Wednesday, in one of the first moves of its kind in the US, the city council of Toronto voted in favour of an initiative that will design, train and implement a new food-caring charter for Toronto.

Both organizaton and implementation will come from a citizens group, the Toronto Food Trust, which has been formed with a goal of creating “a food justice and sustainability movement that embraces the most marginalized communities in the City of Toronto”.

The group’s website features speeches from prominent figures in the Black community such as the Toronto-based journalist Imani Perry, who notes that “food is a way of life and a way of surviving for many of our communities. Yet all too often, Black people who rely on a food system that doesn’t work for them are excluded from these benefits.”

Takwa Campbell, one of the founders of the trust, explained that when the Guardian asked him why it was necessary to address food apartheid, he pointed to certain individuals who got work by being part of a certain sub-ethnic group.

“Working in a restaurant can mean an above-average wage and opportunity for advancement, but those same opportunities are not as present in ethnic food services and restaurants, so many of our own members and other marginalized members of the Toronto community, those who may not speak fluent English, have been excluded from this wealth and power of positions in the restaurant industry.”

Campbell points to a lack of options for Black residents in urban food markets, and says that this was despite the City of Toronto having “one of the largest fresh food markets in North America”.

He continued: “The message has always been ‘OK, you can go to Whole Foods or a Toronto-based grocery store, but when you do get there, you can only shop in sections to be able to get your groceries or drink your coffee or tea from the open-air entrance because if you go in and there’s a Black family, no, you can’t have the entrance or the parking spaces.’ These are all the really simple things that we hear.

“And because you’re only going to the market once a week or once a month, you’re not going to cook. It is almost impossible to really bring African Canadians and other marginalized members of the community back to that full-range of practices that they once had.”

Takwa Campbell of the Toronto Food Trust. Photograph: Jesse Schreiner for the Guardian

The food trust is not the first group to propose a food justice charter – a key component of the New Food Economy vision. Black Food Network founder Laquan Haslett established a similar task force following the recent ascendance of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders. Sanders’ healthcare plan requires patients to have adequate access to healthy food, and the US senator plans to name a Black physician to the federal board that decides what, if any, food programs will be funded.

Swarthmore College food worker Sean Stewart wrote in a recent piece for the Guardian that “rich white elites” had “ripped the food from Black lives”. A research project at Harvard has been created by food security experts to study where this food had gone.

“We are talking about food sovereignty in an area of our very deep ties,” Campbell said. “We are talking about food in what I call ‘enlightened settlement’, which means from the very beginning our city was built around the guiding principle of settler ethnocentric consumption. That has everything to do with locating our (Black) communities in neighbourhoods that were erected around plantations and railroad station. We see light rail transit as the platform for bringing these communities into the inner city.

“Over 150 years ago, settler rights argued that our Black community had come to what they described as a ‘joyless, listless’ existence, and because there were no resources for self-sufficiency, they wanted to improve on the misery by transporting them off to the country.”

Although the Toronto Food Trust is a grassroots initiative, city council voted unanimously for the initiative. However,

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