Protecting Cultural Food Assets and the Intangible Cultural Heritage in Vancouver

Importance of Cultural Food Assets 

Food and culture are deeply intertwined: food reflects one’s cultural identity and helps maintain connection to one’s community. For many migrant and newcomer communities in Vancouver, food is a means to connect with and retain one’s culture and identity. Cultural food assets, that may include small family businesses such as green grocers and restaurants, are significant to a  neighbourhood, especially for diasporic populations and equity-denied groups.  These businesses provide community members with access to important cultural food items, ranging from produce, herbal medicines, traditional goods and ethnic meals. They also function as vital  community spaces, providing community members with access to culturally appropriate resources and supports, including job opportunities. These cultural food assets represent an intangible cultural heritage that refers to the forms of culture that are important to groups of people, embedded in everyday life, and critical in accessing, experiencing and transmitting one’s culture. 

However, due to increased pressure from redevelopment and gentrification, these invaluable cultural food assets are under threat of displacement in many neighbourhoods across Vancouver. 

Joyce Street Redevelopment Plan and Joyce Street Action Network

Renfrew-Collingwood neighbourhood is home to a number of cultural communities, composed of folks of Filipinx, Korean, and Chinese descent. Cultural food assets are concentrated  at 5163-5187 Joyce Street, and feature a number of Filipinx, Korean, and Chinese restaurants, small grocers and convenience stores. At the beginning of 2021, a new development was proposed for the site, to build a 32-storey condominium tower, featuring parking, retail and a library. The re-development of 5163-5187 Joyce Street threatened to displace multiple small businesses and restaurants, resulting in significant loss of valuable cultural food assets and, with that, intangible cultural heritage, disproportionately impacting residents of colour and other equity-denied groups. This, paired with lack of meaningful and accessible community engagement and consultation, sparked extensive community organizing and advocacy efforts. 

Spearheaded by Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice of Collingwood Neighbourhood House, the campaign brought together a number of community organizations and groups in a Joyce Street Action Network to protect beloved cultural food assets at 5163-5187 Joyce Street. For example, Sliced Mango Collective – a youth organization that centers Filipinx identity and cultures, has lent its support to the campaign. The coordinated organizing and advocacy efforts led to a successfully lengthened public engagement period, city staff changing their approach to community engagement sessions to include non-English languages, and ultimately, a halt by the developers in continuing their development application with the City of Vancouver.  

The Sliced Mango Collective has been helping residents push back against the development. Photo by Cloe Logan. Via

While achieving this significant win, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice Staff recognized that the threat of displacement of cultural food assets is an ongoing and persistent issue for many communities in Vancouver, and began to consider systemic methods to address the issue. Over the fall and winter of 2021-22, Renfrew-Collingwood Food Justice team worked to advocate for development of a motion to protect and support cultural food assets in neighbourhoods across Vancouver. The team worked in consultation with a number of cultural community organizations, including Heritage Vancouver, Chinatown Transformation Team, Food Policy Council, Punjabi Market Collective, Hogan’s Alley Society, and hua foundation, to develop the motion.  After over 5 months of work, the motion is set to go to the City Council on Tuesday, March 29th, 2022.

Councillor Christine Boyle’s Motion:  On Protecting and Supporting Cultural Food Assets and Other Forms of Intangible Cultural Heritage in Vancouver

Councillor Christine Boyle’s Placekeeping Motion: Protecting and supporting cultural food assets and other forms of intangible cultural heritage in Vancouver outlines the importance of cultural food assets and intangible cultural heritage, describes the current speculative and development pressure and proposes actions steps for the city staff to begin the work on developing effective policy response aimed at protecting and supporting cultural food assets and other forms of intangible cultural heritage in Vancouver.

Community advocacy groups hope the motion will lead to the development of policies that will:

  • Safeguard spaces that provide cultural safety and allow for cultural transmission
  • Allow for communities that have been historically oppressed to continue  accessing  healthy, affordable and culturally appropriate foods through the cultural food asset businesses in their neighbourhoods
  • Help small businesses secure affordable lease rates 
  • Introduce new classifications of small businesses that would recognize small businesses as valuable community assets and active contributors to the health and social wellbeing of community

Your Support is Needed – How YOU Can Help

  • Learn more about the importance of cultural food assets and ways the local government can help protect them. Join a free public event on March 28th, at 7pm “Food + Culture: How Local Government can help protect the cultural spaces that feed us”  featuring a panel discussion with local community leaders working in food and culture. Register here 
  • Speak in support of Councillor Christine Boyle’s  new City of Vancouver Motion, “Placekeeping: Protecting and Supporting Cultural Food Assets and Other Forms of Intangible Heritage in Vancouver” on Wednesday, March 30! Deadline to request to speak is Tuesday, March 29 8:30am. Register to speak here
  • Help amplify the message by sharing this post with your networks!
Speak in support of Councillor Boyle’s Motion, “Placekeeping: Protecting and Supporting Cultural Food Assets and Other Forms of Intangible Heritage in Vancouver” on March 30