Food Justice Town Hall: Event Recap

Ahead of the Vancouver municipal election on October 15th, a group of food justice organizations, including Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks hosted a Food Justice Town Hall to explore local food policy issues, opportunities, and the vision for a just and resilient food system in Vancouver, highlighting the importance of local food policy to the municipal candidates. 

The event took place virtually on September 27th, with 262 people registered and 150 in attendance, including municipal candidates Nancy Trigueros, Tanya Webking, Maira Hassan, and Rocco Trigueros (COPE); Michael Wiebe, Devyani Singh and Lois Chan-Pedley (Green Party of Vancouver); Dulcy Anderson and Tesicca 張慈櫻Truong (Forward Together); Carla Frenkel (Vision Vancouver), and Sean Orr (VOTE Socialist); Rebecca Bligh and Victoria Jung (ABC Vancouver); Amie Peacock (Independent); Nick Charrette (Independent); and Leona Brown (Independent).

The evening brought together the diverse perspectives of community leaders, food policy researchers, and people with lived experience of food insecurity who shared about local food justice issues, current food security and programming challenges, and demonstrated how investing in local food systems can support a thriving and resilient city for everyone. The conversation focused around the three main principles of the newly adopted Vancouver Plan: reconciliation, equity, resilience. 

00:02:55 T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss of the  Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty opened the evening with a Coast Salish welcome. Cease stressed the importance of really listening to Indigenous peoples when we are doing our food policy planning. She asks us what would we want our children to want in the Vancouver of the future, taking a multi-generational approach to policy. Indigenous people who have lived on these lands for thousands of years and working with ancestral food systems have much to teach us. “It is time to make Indigenous more visible on the land” says Cease.

00:12:21 Ian Marcuse of Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks provided an overview of the  food policy landscape in Vancouver. Vancouver has many great plans such as the Climate Emergency Action Plan, the Greenest City Action Plan, the Healthy City Strategy, the Resilience Strategy, and of course, the Vancouver Food Strategy to name a few, “but these plans remain mostly aspirational without adequate funding proportional to the food crisis we are currently facing”, according to Ian. Food systems funding amounts to a mere .06% of the City’s Operational Budget and almost nothing in the City’s $3.5 billion Capital Budget. Funding is essential to any food policy work. Ian also stressed the importance of a strong neighbourhood-based food network, empowering residents to engage in culturally appropriate and equity based food systems work and change. 

00:19:40 Kanatiio Gabriel of DUDES Club from the Mohawk Nation wove together an Indigenous based re-matriated food system connection and giving back to mother earth of clean water, clean earth, and clean air. His work in the Downtown Eastside has in part focused on connecting to the land through gardens where he helps manage the Astoria Food Gardens. This garden is providing a valuable opportunity for many residents in that community to make a change in their lives, participate in something larger than themselves, foster a sense of purpose, and take the first steps to food sovereignty. These gardens have literally saved lives in a community overrun by opioid deaths in recent years. Kanatiio reminds us that “Indigenous people have very little land they control, despite all our land acknowledgments….that expanding such Indigenous focused gardens as actual cultural heritage spaces’’ is an important City policy direction.

00:30:56 Joey Liu of South Vancouver Neighbourhood House then provided an interesting perspective from the South Vancouver neighbourhood where 80% of the community are racialized and where huge inequities exist including few public amenities and food assets which are difficult to connect to, few spaces for people to come together and make meaningful social connection, few childcare centres, and many in low wage service industry jobs. Her work is currently focusing largely on emergency response with short term food supports but wants to “harness the diversity, resilience and systems of care that would see a complete connected neighborhood with more food assets and food justice initiatives that are driven by communities” in part supported through City policies that can help create strategies to engage people in this work, provide resources and support on infrastructure and programs, and help finding space and land.

00:39:31 Christina Lee of hua foundation believes that food is a key aspect to equity. “Our ability to live with dignity and agency is viscerally tied with food. Food is the first step into culture, even connecting us to language” says Christina. Her work in Vancouver’s Chinatown and the roots of hua foundation’s work have focused on the critically endangered cultural food heritage that is a huge part of that community and who helped shape a City motion to protect Intangible Cultural Food Heritage in Vancouver….applauded by Christina. She asks us to “imagine food justice as empowerment where we can imagine a future that centres community needs” with policy that adds teeth in its fight against corporate interest.

00:47:15 LouAnn Schmidt of Kits Cares Café  provided an important Vancouver westside perspective acknowledging that food insecurity is a reality everywhere in Vancouver.  Despite the perception of an upper income Westside, the organization that she works with is seeing an increase in food insecurity among many young people and students, working people struggling to make ends meet, an increase in single parents, and the elderly. Many are “hungry, angry, lonely and tired” Says LouAnn who has a vision for an equitable food market.

00:56:17 Dr. Tammara Soma Food Systems Lab presented her 4 seeds of a food system resiliency that “future political leaders should plant” with the first seed being investing in a circular food economy that means reducing resource extraction and focusing on waste prevention, investing in food hubs, soil health, facilitating closed loop urban agriculture for example. The second seed is investing in our future generations, food literacy through youth food education, school meals in partnership with the provincial and federal governments and to grow a healthy society. The third seed required shortening the food supply chain which can tackle climate change, reduce precarity from global disruption, build the local food infrastructure and economy, reduce energy from transport, and reduce waste. The final seed is enshrining the right to food in municipal law which will significantly cut poverty rates and build a food movement based on dignity.

01:02:28 Dawn Morrison Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty reminds us that we will not achieve reconciliation, nor a just food system within a colonial legal framework. Policy makers will need to centre Indigenous culture and language within a decolonizing food system framework and in particular, provide funding and resources that support a land based healing when in the midst of a health and planetary crisis, especially impacting indigenous communities. Dawn’s work in Strathcona Park with the Indigenous Foodlands Initiative is just such a healing approach.

Speaker presentations were followed by party representatives and independent candidates sharing their food policy commitments (01:16:57).

Candidates were then invited to respond to questions (01:40:32).

The event has helped to start the conversation on envisioning a sustainable and just food system in Vancouver and the role of food policy in achieving this vision. Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks, along with the organizing committee, are committed to continue this important conversation. 

Watch full recording here.

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