Community Food Centres and the Right to Food

BY Daniel Moore

In May 2012, a United Nation’s Special Rappateur toured Canada to examine how our country is realizing the human right to food. He visited Toronto, Montreal, northern Manitoba, and Edmonton. He met with a variety of groups that all have a vested interest in ensuring that all Canadians have the means to access food that is sufficient and adequate in a dignified manner. And his findings were less than glowing.

First Nations, Inuit, and Métis were on average two to three times more food insecure than non-aboriginal Canadians

As his report explains, he learned that First Nations, Inuit, and Métis were on average two to three times more food insecure than non-aboriginal Canadians; he found a lack of protection for the right to food in our constitutional law; he noted that Canadian food aid has grown while domestic food insecurity continues to rise; he commented on the failure of our social assistance to give people the means to buy food on a regular basis; and, he noted how food bank and food assistance programs are fervently try to keep pace with widening income inequality, but falling behind.

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That last challenge is the one I’d like to talk about for this special issue on the right to food. Emergency food programs occupy a tricky place in our food system. On the one hand, they represent a systemic failure to ensure all people have the means to access food that is sufficient, nutritious, and culturally appropriate. At the same time, they offer one of the few existing responses to that failure and continue to develop solutions in the absence of stronger public policy. Some of the best work being done right now to realize the right to food is through community food centres—a model that is finding a home in Hamilton.

Every month over 800 households from single adults to large families of 6, 8, or 10 pick up a half-a-week’s supply of food

When the Anvil asked me to write an article for this issue, we met to talk about the role that food banks play in creating access to high-quality food. I showed him around the building where I work at Mission Services’ location on Wentworth Street North, just south of Barton. This is the home of the Good Food Centre, where every month over 800 households from single adults to large families of 6, 8, or 10 pick up a half-a-week’s supply of food. It can get very busy here. Just a few weeks ago 85 families came through in a single afternoon, surpassing all recent records.

food simply serves as the connector. It’s a way to bring people together, improve quality of life, and create linkages that cut across social and economic status

My job is to write funders to tell them about new projects on the go, and to convey the value of investing in food as part of a strategy to reduce poverty, improve health, and build community. More and more, emergency food programs see their efforts overlapping with all of these issues; food simply serves as the connector. It’s a way to bring people together, improve quality of life, and create linkages that cut across social and economic status. What sustains this work, however, is an intolerance for hunger and food insecurity.

The idea that food bank programs need to think more deeply about the value they add to communities was touched on at the Hamilton Food Summit last spring. One of the goals proposed then was that our city’s food system should move away from the traditional food bank model and toward “food hubs or community food centres.” This is the direction Mission Services’ Good Food Centre has been heading, along with several other food programs downtown, on the mountain, and in the east end.

Last year, for instance, we became a member of the Good Food Organization, an initiative of Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) to build the capacity of food programs across the country in working toward a healthier and just food system. This umbrella organization grew out of the work at The Stop in Davenport West, Toronto. Jason McBride explains The Stop’s achievements in The Edible City, especially how at The Stop food is considered “a basic human right, regardless of income or class” (167).

I would challenge McBride on one simple point. The Stop is not the first emergency food service to take the stance that every person, whether they are rich or poor, deserves access to food. The intervention that The Stop and now Community Food Services Canada are making is much more specific, and audacious, namely that people deserve access to healthy food in a way that makes them feel no less because their economic status prevents them from obtaining food through our current (capitalist, globalized, etc.) food system.

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It’s great to see more food banks buying into that message. The Good Food Center is just one of more than 50 or 60 programs across the country that have adopted the “good food principles.” Indeed, the beauty of CFCC’s strategy is how it creates a way for food banks–often perceived as a road block in the system–to become involved in devising meaningful, lasting solutions to food insecurity. It gives food programs a framework to connect emergency-level responses (giving out 3 or 4 day supplies of food) to coordinated anti-poverty and community-building efforts.

last summer we distributed 60% more produce than the year before

The Good Food Centre is working hard to realize that vision in a host of ways. We now bring in more fresh fruits and vegetables to supplement non-perishables; last summer we distributed 60% more produce than the year before. We source most of our food from local growers and suppliers, thus helping to strengthen Hamilton’s economic food system. We are adding a sit-down community meal program this spring, and we’ve created policies to empower people who use the Good Food Centre to volunteer and become more involved. In addition, we are forging new partnerships to help us better meet people where they are at–whether by offering cooking lessons or by making legal aid services available on site.

All of this work is propelled by belief that everyone deserves access to good food. Food that is healthy, plentiful and appealing. That belief cuts across many different political lines, which is hopeful. But according to the UN Special Rappateur, Canada still has a ways to go to making the human right to food a reality for everyone.

Here are just a few ways you can become part of that solution at the Good Food Centre:

We love donations of…

  • Healthy cereals
  • Dried beans & Chickpeas
  • Lentils & Rice
  • Applesauce
  • Nuts & Granola bars
  • Diapers & Baby formula
  • Toothpaste & Toothbrushes

Drop offs…

196 Wentworth Street North (the brick building across the parking lot from Cathy Wever Elementary), 8:30 to 4:00

You can connect with Mission Seriveces Hamilton on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram

 

Daniel is a resident of the Sherman Hub and the Grants and Communications Officer at Mission Services of Hamilton.

Want more? Continue reading The Food Issue

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