Food justice advocates and City of Vancouver politicians filled the large City Hall room for a Vancouver Food System Dialogue on February 9 in the spirit of sharing, listening and learning.

We are pleased to present the audio recordings from this event below

Link to the Dialogue slide deck for a summary of policy recommendations.

Eleven lived experience and professional experts presented on the topics of Indigenous food systems, protection of cultural food assets, support for urban agriculture, strengthening of the VNFN place-based community food security, and reducing food waste and improving recovery. Nine politicians from each of the three governing parties attended.

Described by some audience members as powerful storytelling, the speakers all presented intelligent and passionate stories that humanized the food system, validating local knowledge and lived experience.

Organized by the Vancouver Food Justice Coalition from a desire to amplify community voices in political change, this Dialogue represented an important community mobilization amid a backdrop of multiple crises in our food systems. We are calling on stronger community-led engagement and action to help build a more just food system whether through policy or upstream change that challenge the traditional food charity model and tackle persistent issues such as food insecurity, climate impacts, and urban development pressures, to name a few.

A final thanks to Columbia College, a nonprofit international student school who the VFJC has been working with to support student food security and who generously funded this Dialogue.

Ian Marcuse and Leona Brown Introduction – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Leona Brown, Indigenous Food Systems Consultant shared her passion for fostering food sovereignty and cultural preservation. Leona spoke about her involvement in a number of Indigenous garden initiatives, which aim to reconnect Indigenous people with their traditional medicines and educate the broader community about food cultivation. She emphasized the importance of creating inclusive spaces like healing gardens to promote reconciliation and community building. Leona highlighted the need for support from city officials and organizations to remove barriers and ensure access to resources for community-led initiatives. With the challenges of food insecurity exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Leona stressed the urgency of supporting local food systems and empowering communities to grow their own food as a means of cultural preservation and resilience. 

Tammara Soma Introduction – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Dr. Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor at SFU, Co-founder of the Food Systems Lab talked about the transformative power of food for city leaders that can address multiple strategic priorities and foster a more resilient and vibrant community. Tammara emphasized how food can serve as a catalyst for achieving strategic priorities such as vibrant diversity, economic resilience, and community well-being. She also underscored the importance of supporting small food enterprises and embracing a circular food economy to foster sustainability and inclusivity. Drawing on her research and expertise, she highlighted the critical role of food in addressing pressing issues like climate emergency, housing affordability, and social equity. Additionally, by investing in Indigenous food experts and promoting food as medicine interventions, Vancouver can lead in building healthy, inclusive, and equitable cities. 

Cultural Food Assets – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Gillian Der 謝美華 – former Renfrew Collingwood Food Justice Manager, emphasized the importance of preserving cultural food assets amidst the pressure of urban development. She highlighted the need for inclusive development processes that prioritize small businesses and community voices, recognizing their commitment to community building. Gillian emphasized the significance of new buildings offering better standards for workers, advocating for supportive policies to sustain cultural food assets within communities.

William Liu – CEO, Kam Wai Dim Sum highlighted the profound connections his business has within the community. He emphasized how Chinatown’s food system embodies a vibrant tapestry of cultural heritage, offering a profound sense of belonging to generations of residents. As part of this cherished community, he expressed a commitment to safeguarding cultural food assets while providing a place of connection, especially to protect, refurbish and build upon Chinatown’s historic society buildings and others, ensuring a legacy for future generations to thrive.

Urban Agriculture – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Emi Do – Young Agrarians, Co-op Coordinator, recovering urban farmer, underscored the significance of urban agriculture in addressing the pressing need for new and young farmers. With less than 2% of Canadians engaged in farming and less than 10% under 35, cultivating the next generation of farmers is imperative for future food security. Urban farming served as a vital entry point, offering opportunities for individuals to participate in agricultural endeavors. Beyond its role in food production, urban farming fosters community connections, environmental stewardship, and entrepreneurial spirit. By empowering people to grow their own food and contribute to their communities, urban farming became a tangible solution to societal challenges while instilling a sense of empowerment and self-sufficiency.

Nova Guest – Sole Food Street Farm shared how their urban agriculture initiative empower individuals by providing jobs, training, and community support. Sole Food employs approximately 28 people from the Downtown Eastside, offering low-barrier job opportunities. Nova emphasized the transformative impact that Sole Food has had in addressing challenges like addiction and housing insecurity, highlighting the importance of hands-on engagement with food production. Despite obstacles like limited land access, Sole Food remains committed to sustainability, utilizing innovative farming practices such as above-ground containers, and integrating indigenous medicines. Nova expressed deep gratitude for the opportunity to contribute to this transformative work, underscoring the significance of urban agriculture in empowering communities and promoting self-reliance.

Food Waste and Recovery – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Heather Gerrie – Community Engagement, Food Stash highlighted the pressing issue of food waste in Vancouver and its significant environmental impact. She shared that food waste is a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, yet it has received less attention in climate action plans. Despite the significant efforts of organizations like Food Stash, which recovers millions of pounds of food annually, only 5% of potential waste is currently being addressed. She urged for more support from the community and the city of Vancouver to further enhance food recovery initiatives and tackle this critical environmental issue.

Michelle Reining – Executive Director, Vancouver Food Runners shared the global momentum in municipal-level food policy work, citing Milan, Italy, as an exemplary model with its Urban Food Policy Pact. Vancouver signed this pact in 2015 but somehow faces challenges due to limited resources and municipal support. However, there’s growing municipal interest in food waste prevention, exemplified by Councillor Adriane Carr’s motion to decrease food waste and increase food security. The motion emphasizes measurement, monitoring, and support for food waste prevention, aligning with Vancouver’s focus on progressive leadership and regulation in food security. Michelle emphasized the importance of engaging all Vancouver residents in this effort, focusing on education, infrastructure, and community programs to address food waste effectively.

Chef TJ Conwi – Ono Vancouver and ReRoot, with over 24 years of experience, TJ brings his culinary expertise to Vancouver as an executive chef and culinary instructor. Amidst the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, he found a silver lining by leveraging his skills and industry connections to address food insecurity in the city. Collaborating with organizations like Vancouver Food Runners, he spearheaded efforts to cook and donate over 400,000 meals to six different charities in downtown East Vancouver, while diverting 11 tons of surplus food from landfills. Chef Conwi operates his social enterprise with a focus on sustainability, using donated surplus ingredients and shared kitchen facilities to keep costs low. Looking to the future, he envisions creating a food hub in Vancouver to store, distribute, and cook surplus food and offering education opportunities for aspiring chefs.

Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks – Click Here to Hear the  Recording

Joey Liu – Food Security Manager, South Vancouver Neighbourhood House shared insights on the transformative impact of Vancouver’s Neighborhood Food Networks (VNFNs). These networks, operating within community hubs like neighborhood houses, serve as vital community connectors, fostering a sense of belonging and empowerment. Joey highlighted the extensive reach and collaborative nature of VNFNs, with 15 networks partnering with over 200 local organizations. Despite challenges like the COVID-19 pandemic, VNFNs demonstrated remarkable agility and solidarity, providing essential food support to thousands of individuals through food distribution. However, Joey acknowledged persistent challenges, particularly in addressing growing food insecurity amidst limited funding and resources. She emphasized the need for increased investment in local food systems to ensure equitable access to healthy and culturally appropriate food. Joey emphasized the strength of Vancouver’s community networks in mobilizing diverse communities and advocating for higher-level support. She underscored the power of food as a catalyst for long-term community building and called for greater collaboration and resources to address food insecurity effectively.

Annie Danliko – Food program participant and past Britannia Community Centre President shared her insights into the significance of neighborhood food networks. As a Haida descendant, she highlighted the importance of traditional food preservation techniques in her own life, especially amidst challenges like living on disability payments. Annie’s involvement in community cooking initiatives, such as teaching youth culinary skills, underscored the transformative power of food programs. She emphasized the importance of access to culturally appropriate foods, reflecting on her own dietary needs shaped by her heritage. Annie also praised the community’s response during the COVID-19 pandemic, citing the pivotal role of community centers like Britannia in providing essential supports and fostering resilience.

Written by Kapish Chhabra and Ian Marcuse

Image creation by Vancouver Food Rescue