Okay Toronto, so Canadian spuds are duds. No surprise there. After all, we are at war with the ailments of the world (bird flu, mad cow et al.) and using our culinary arsenal of “good fat” (thanks Omega 3), immunity building boosters (yes, I mean ginger) and memory building wonder foods (blueberries anyone?) to demolish the enemy. French fries only slowed us down. It was dead weight that found itself wrapped snugly around our mid-sections, taunting our hearts and arteries to concede defeat.
Nope, French fries are not our friends. But what about couscous? Or oxtail? Or pho?
Toronto, we are a city that prides itself on diversity (albeit superficial, sometimes). This diversity is often reflected in the endless options to satiate the stomach and the soul. Craving Greek food? Hit the Danforth. Looking for some good jerk chicken? That’s Eglinton West. Good Pho? St. Clair and Old Weston Road. And that isn’t including the suburban gems in places like Etobicoke (i.e. Anatolia), Scarborough (Johnny’s), North York ( Pepper’s) etc.
With so much choice, it’s a wonder how anyone goes hungry around here. And yet every month more than 85,000 people visit food banks like Daily Bread Food Bank to get their daily bread.
Food is a right and we are a city of plenty. We just have the distribution of plenty a bit skewed. The gap between rich and poor is exacerbated by the gap between the hungry and well-nourished.
With a little bit of innovation, ambition and creativity, that can change. Organizations like Evergreen and Food Share are creating ways (via the Brick Works and the Good Food Box, respectively) that completely reconfigure people’s relationship to the ways food is made, distributed and eaten. As cliche as it sounds, the food movement is pretty revolutionary because the beneficiaries include everyone.
Let’s become a city that uses our culinary diversity to attract tourists and mobilize residents.
What's the benefit, you ask? A focus on food also means a focus on health, particularly as it relates to what we consume.
This kind of attention to food consumption also wonderfully lends itself to food production, that is the environmental conditions and the technology used.
The element that makes this approach unique is that it's about introducing international foods into our everyday lives. Doing this would require a bit of education. Imagine health studies classes in grade schools, middle schools and high schools across this city that included culinary diversity.
Nationally, we would build bridges with other provinces that are interested in bringing our international approach to their own cities. We could work with the farming industry, the food and beverage industry, the tourism and hospitality industry, the education sector and even the manufacturing sector. Internationally, we could import and export food, materials and culinary expertise to fuel the economy.
Let's accept that steak and potatoes is the culinary diversity of yesteryear. Variety is the spice of Toronto life and it's something that we should use to differentiate ourselves from the rest.
In all honesty, the folks at Tourism Toronto should stop marketing Toronto as an amazingly beautiful city. Not when we have to compete with beautiful cobblestone streets, historic (i.e. 200 year old) architecture, exotic tropical plants or Vancouver. Instead, let’s focus on the beautiful people in this city and the food that they bring from their countries of origin.
While that is happening, we need to encourage food innovation through projects like community gardens and work with organizations like Foodshare, AfriCan Food basket and others to create neighbourhoods of nourished people. What about a communal bake oven in a few parks across the city, like the one at Dufferin Grove Park?
We could even add an enterprising element to this, by selling our yields and baked goods to whomever. Whomever could include anyone attending Winterlicious, Summerlicious, Nuit Blanche, Caribana and the many other events that attract locals and tourists alike. I can’t help but feel like the possibilities are endless
Please don’t mistake this effort for a one-time, annual event. This is not about a self-congratulatory food festival. Nor is this a solution to the disaster that is A La Cart. This is about making food part of our everyday Canadian existence and inviting others to join us for the feast. Equally as important is that we can do this in a way that makes food accessible through simple innovations like community gardens, local sourcing and even making our Canada food guide more, um, inclusive. Add that to Adam Zendel's idea of retail in our neighbourhoods and voila, Nirvana.
Can our next mayor use this as one of many strategies to make Toronto a city of the 21st century? If we can’t see the immense potential of Toronto’s culinary diversity and use it to establish our city as the livable, innovative and memorable place we want it to me, then we are definitely out to lunch.