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.
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.
- Garth, H., & Reese, A. M. (Eds.). (2020). Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice. University of Minnesota.
- 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/
- 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
- 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