How to feed our city
When I was about 3, my "back to the earth" parents joined with other St. John’s hippies and brought in a boatload of goats. We had one goat, some chickens and geese. We grew some vegetables in our rocky patch of earth. And, like most people who move to Toronto whether from Jamaica or Nova Scotia, the gap between the chicken that laid the eggs and the omelette before me, widened when I came here.
Too many Toronto neighbourhoods are food deserts, where walking to a grocery store can be far more difficult for a single working parent than taking the car to the fast food joint down the road. And too few families can actually afford to buy food, period, after they pay rent.
Still, much of Toronto is experiencing a food renaissance.
More people are growing food in their backyard, asking for advice from those families that have been growing tomatoes and peppers in every square inch of earth they could uncover, from the day they arrived here 40 years ago. Toronto is a foodie mecca, with a multitude of food choices and a crop of chefs and shop owners with a passion for locally produced, ecologically sound food. On Friday nights, my urban kids can join our neighbours for a pay-what-you-can supper cooked in a brick oven by park staff, made from food purchased at the park farmers’ market. Friendships are made while the seeds of community action are sown.
All neighbourhoods should have a taste of this. More than a taste… a big sustaining gulp.
Well, not all is lost. Check out the Urban Food Strategy released by Toronto Public Health. It celebrates what already exists throughout the city. Foodshare. The Stop. Who knew there was a network of Community Food Animators to help establish community gardens? How awesome is that?
It challenges the City to develop policies that will make it easier to create those community gardens or bake ovens and place fresh food markets in parks and other public lands. Don’t close down the pizza oven, stoke that fire!
It challenges us to think outside the box. Why not demand that Transit City add grocery stores at transit stops so riders can get good food on the way home, and give them another reason to take public transit instead of driving? Use those planning, zoning and licensing powers to ensure ALL residents of this city have access to healthy, safe and culturally appropriate food.
Of course, this won’t make a hill of beans' difference if the provincial and federal governments don’t do their part…in so many ways. Most importantly, let’s make sure people who need income support can actually feed their families.
Hunger in this city is not due to lack of food but lack of money. 82 per cent of Toronto’s social assistance recipients have to pay rent in the private market, and that rent averages 100 per cent of their benefits. That leaves exactly $0 to feed the kids.
Can the City of Toronto do anything about that? I say, how can they not?
Not one mayoral candidate in this election, or city councillor for that matter, should escape your doorstep without answering that question.