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Although we produce more than enough food in Canada, people of colour are consistently our most food insecure population. 28.9% of Black Canadian households and 11.1% of White Canadian households experience food insecurity. This means that Black Canadians are approximately three times more likely to be food insecure.

 

[approximately 3 in 10 Black Canadians are food insecure; approximately 1 in 10 White Canadians are food insecure]

Prominence of Food Insecurity in Black and White Canadians. Reproduced from Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018).

 

Food insecure households often must turn to emergency food programs like food banks. Food banks are excellent resources for temporary situations but they are not often being used long-term. For many Black Canadians, food banks are not a reliable source of culturally appropriate food and, in some cases, nutritionally adequate diets.

 

I have been volunteering at foodbanks for approximately 4 years and from these experiences I can comment that some foodbanks are not as privileged as others. The majority of Canadian food banks run through a procedure where boxes of non-perishable food items are handed out to food insecure families.  Although this provides food, it cannot support a full, proper diet.  There’s often no meat, no dairy and no produce included. The harsh reality of this method is that cultural needs are neglected by this current food bank setup. Currently, this situation is being exasperated by the COVID-19 Pandemic as more Canadians seek emergency food programs. The pressures that the pandemic has placed upon the Canadian food system is an example of why long-term change has to be made.

 

Urban agriculture initiatives are a potential solution and are being pioneered by Black communities. Organizations like Black Creek Community Farm, based out of Toronto, Ontario, are notable voices in this movement. Farming in the city, whether it be in greenhouses, on rooftop farms or through outdoor community gardens, allow Black communities to address food insecurity in a self-sufficient way. By growing food in the city, Black Canadians have control over what they grow and where they grow it. This food will often be culturally appropriate, and have better nutritional value than what food banks can offer.

 

When Black Canadians can choose what food they grow, culturally important crops stand out. Urban farms like Black Creek Community Farm have become a staple for over 3000 Black Torontonians by cultivating culturally appropriate vegetables like cassava, okra and callaloo. These crops will support nutritionally adequate diets by providing a cheaper alternative for produce for Black neighbourhoods since this is not a viable option for most traditional food banks.

 

Funding and policy are the only way that urban agriculture can continue to support Black communities. As the Black Food Justice movement is only starting to take its voice in the public realm, policy makers need to start listening and invoke the appropriate changes. Emergency food programs are not capable of supporting Black Canadians long-term anymore. Permanent solutions like urban agriculture need to be considered. Policy makers need to start investing in suitable development action plans. To ensure Canada’s food system is just, Black Canadians have to have their say. They need control over their food. Urban agriculture can ensure that. Change needs to start now.

 

 

Supporting Resources:

  1. Garth, H., & Reese, A. M. (Eds.). (2020). Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice. University of Minnesota.
  2. Igbavboa, H., & Elliot, S. (n.d.). The Challenge of Food Sovereignty for Black Farmers in the Greater Toronto Area. https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/socialinnovation/News/
  3. Jabakhanji, S. (2021). Meet some of Toronto’s food justice advocates championing Black food sovereignty. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-food-sovereignty-toronto-food-advocates-1.5857154?fbclid=IwAR0SBTF1JjUAJnJTPxJqPiZvtg6kMig1abw
  4. Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018). Household Food Insecurity in Canada. PROOF. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf

 

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     From farm to plate, anywhere from one third to one half of all food is never consumed. This issue is critical for achieving a sustainable agricultural system because of the huge strain modern agricultural production places on our planet. As almost a billon people are food insecure (having inadequate access to, or resources for, nutritious and culturally-appropriate foods), reducing food waste is becoming increasingly important. Recent FAO reports show the number is more accurately 820 million people and increasing 1. It is critical to consider these numbers because every time food is wasted, food is being denied from the chronically hungry 2.

 

     As it currently stands, food waste models predict that the volume of food wasted is expected to grow 1.9% yearly, from 2015 to 2030 3. The limited activism and policy work in effect are not efficiently reducing the severity of the problem. Solutions to food waste do exist. However, a significant change in society’s attitude is desperately needed 2.

 

     Several agencies and advocates have presented a variety of ideas to alleviate the amount of food that is wasted. One possible model to follow was developed by the Environmental Protection Agency 2.  The Food Waste Pyramid is a system designed to upcycle food waste to prevent it from entering the landfill. The system works from the top down  - the top of the pyramid being the number one way to reduce food waste, and the bottom being what should never be done with food waste. Starting from the top of the pyramid, the strategies they suggest are as follows:

 

  1. Reduce food waste at the production level on the farm;
  2. Feed people with food that is still edible but would otherwise be thrown in the landfill;
  3. Feed animals what humans cannot eat;
  4. Use food waste to create energy through anaerobic digestion technology;
  5. Compost food waste so the nutrients can return back to the soil to grow more food.

 

The last level of the pyramid is where food waste goes to the landfill. However, this step should never happen because when food is put into the landfill it will decompose in the absence of oxygen, producing methane, a greenhouse gas that is twenty-three times more powerful than carbon dioxide 2.

 

a graphic showing the steps of the Food Waste Pyramid, designed byt he Environmental Protection Agency

Food Waste Pyramid designed by the Environmental Protection Agency, adapted by Nathalie Amyotte (2020)

 

To achieve a sustainable agricultural system, substantial change must be accomplished. The global food system as a whole must be re-evaluated which includes tackling the significant issue of food waste and the challenges surrounding it. Although one third of food is currently wasted, new approaches and innovations are constantly being developed. Change can happen.

 

 

Supporting Articles:

 

  1. FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP & WHO. (2019). The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World 2019. Safeguarding against economic slowdowns and downturns. Rome: FAO.
  2. Wasted: The Story of Food Waste. Directed by Nari Kye & Anna Chai. Zero Point Zero Production Inc., 2017. CBC, https://www.cbc.ca/player/play/1164399683579.

  3. Hegnsholt, E., Unnikrishnan,  S., Pollmann-Larsen, M., Askelsdottir, B., & Gerard, M. (2018, August 20). Tackling the 1.6-Billion-Ton Food Loss and Waste Crisis. BCG. https://www.bcg.com/en-ca/publications/2018/tackling-1.6-billion-ton-food-loss-and-waste-crisis.aspx.

  4. Foley, J. A., Ramankutty, N., Brauman, K. A., Cassidy, E. S., Gerber, J. S., Johnston, M., Johnston, M., et al. (2011). Solutions for a cultivated planet. Nature, 478 (7369), 337-342. https://doi.org/10.1038/nature10452

  5. Mateo-Sagasta, J., Marjani, S., Turral, H., Burke, J. (2017). Water pollution from agriculture: a global review. Rome: FAO.

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