The City of Vancouver recently released a survey on January 4, asking for public input into the 2023 City Budgets. The full information package can be seen here.
The total proposed Operating Budget for 2023 is $1.9 billion and the 2023-2026 Capital Plan totals $3.5 billion. A draft 2023 Operating and Capital Budgets have already been presented to Council on November 28, with the Capital Budget approved on December 6. The Operating Budget approval was deferred until February 28, 2023, where the public will have an opportunity to further comment to council, though at this stage, the draft is most likely a done deal. Furthermore, we argue that such community engagement surveys where the public is merely invited to submit their top 3 budget priorities are highly problematic: while all the issues are important, we are asked to select one priority over another. The full budget document can be seen here.
Those of us in the community food programs sector have long argued for an increase to City food systems funding to meet the many food systems challenges we are facing that appear to be worsening. However, City budgets typically do not have a lot of room to increase budgets without decreasing them in other areas.
So, where does food systems funding square up in the Operating Budget? The best estimates that we currently have for the main food systems areas are as follows:
$365,000 – City Food Staffing
$477,000 – School Food Grants
$203,000 – Sustainable Food Systems Grant
$411,700 – City Farmer / Soul Food Farm License
$128,000 – Greenest City Grant (food projects)
$3,300,000 – Food Insecurity Meal Services (Evelyne Saller Centre, Carnegie Centre, Gathering Place)
Total = $4,884,700
$4.88 million amounts to only .25% of the City Operations Budget. Keep in mind that the important $3.3 million emergency food relief is not addressing systems change work.
And so, we see that while Vancouver has many admirable systems change plans where food policy is mentioned, 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, these plans remain mostly aspirational without adequate funding.
In particular, we would like to see greater investment in the Sustainable Food Systems Grant. At a mere $203,000, it provides very little to the many community food organizations doing essential community food work and where lies the greatest opportunity to invest in systems change work that moves beyond basic emergency food provision towards community development that begins to build community capacity and empowerment to take back control of the local food system. This is the work that promotes social support, inclusion and participation, develops relationships and solidarity and promotes local collective food action to strengthen our food system. As issues are solved at the community level, these groups also put energy into advocacy and policy work to address the bigger food system impacts. We see that despite the tremendous efforts of many food groups, most remain woefully underfunded, though they play a vital role in building a more equitable, resilient, just and sovereign food system in Vancouver. If the politicians do not see food security show up as a priority, it will simply not get funded.
Help us make food security a City budget priority!
Step 1: Go to shapeyourcity.ca/budget
Step 2. Add “Food Security” in the “Other” section for your top 3 priorities
Step 3. Add why food security is important to you
Survey is open until January 24.
On the Importance of Decolonizing Policy Making Process
A more fundamental issue is the need for a fuller critique of the colonial structures that define and govern our local food systems, policy and funding in the first place. When we engage in these budget processes, we are, in effect, legitimizing the authority of a colonial state. Instead, those of us dependent on municipal funding must ground our political advocacy in a decolonial process that acknowledges,and aims to redistribute political power in such a way that communities, in particular those facing food insecurity and marginalization, help set the priorities for the distribution of City resources. Without rejecting the importance of participation in public policy processes, we argue for the need to put greater decision-making in the community: in defining issues, policy setting and resourcing.
It is important to mention that municipal funding (and most other funding) for food systems has largely limited our ability to tackle the root causes of food insecurity and build a strong food justice culture that meets our food challenges. With little or no funds for community organizing and political advocacy, political change is limited. While we can improve the lives of individual community members, we are challenged to address the systems of oppression that create structural vulnerability in the first place. This is the work and subsequent funding that needs to be articulated and fought for.
With increased funding for systems change work, we can connect with the community, and provide education and training in movement building and political action. With communities defining their own food priorities, we will be able to create a community-based, multi-sectoral and people-led budget submission process, informed by lived experience and evidence to back up the budget requests. Decolonizing our budgets will not be easy, but it is critical if we are to realize a truly food just future.