Highlights from Futureproofing Vancouver: Food Security beyond Food Surplus
Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity. We have enough food in the country. It is a distribution problem, and it is a failure of our economic system that adequately healthy and culturally appropriate food is not available to all.
Businesses and governments are part of enormous, intricate systems supporting livelihoods. This presents a barrier because of inertia and fear of change – both intended and unintended consequences.
We must rethink our relationship to food and to the land it comes from. We will never solve food waste or food insecurity without first rethinking our relationship to food, the resources it takes to raise it, how we value people working in the food sector, and the land it comes from.
Limited access to Land and commercial space can limit the ability to address food insecurity by not-for-profits and other actors in the food economy.
Introduction and Overview
Food Security beyond Food Surplus explores how we can future-proof Vancouver by establishing a just, equitable, and zero-waste food system.
Systems change is accomplished by people from diverse walks of life coming together and working in tandem to figure out the solutions at play, and there are two key systems at work here:
The industrial food system, in which businesses plan and account for waste and other inventory shrinkage
The absence of a government system to address food insecurity in Canada. Specifically, the lack of a proactive and cohesive government and humanitarian aid system
“The issues tackled today extend far beyond municipal boundaries. They extend into the food shed within which we all hope to be nourished and thrive – but this is not the case currently.” Meg O’Shea, Senior Manager, Economic Transformation, Vancouver Economic Commission
Panel 1: Tackling the Food Surplus Paradox
Audrey Tung, PhD candidate University of Victoria, Department of Geography
Carla Pellegrini, Executive Director, Food Stash
Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity.
“The day that Food Stash and all of our peers in this food rescue space don’t need to exist any longer is the day where there’s no longer food being wasted … [and] people can access [and afford] the normal channels of purchasing healthy food that they need every day,” says Carla Pellegrini.
As executive director of Food Stash Foundation, she says the organization considers itself an approach that puts a “small Band-Aid on a very large broken system.” Food Stash prioritizes recovering edible food and redistributing it to people in a dignified and affordable way.
The broken food system intersects with and even exploits numerous other systems of waste and inequality.
The root causes of food insecurity have almost nothing to do with food, and the speakers spent considerable time discussing the way food insecurity is generally a symptom of larger systems of inequality, including ableism and gender and racial inequality.
“For the past several decades, we’ve seen the expansion of charitable organizations [in a way that] perpetuates both the broken food system and the social safety net,” says Audrey.
According to Tung, the corporate sector plays a large role in this paradox as well, and warehouse-style food bank models typically rely on food and financial donations from large food corporations. Many frontline workers along the supply chain of these food corporations – from fruit pickers to cashiers – are minimum-wage earners or work in exploitive environments and are themselves food insecure.
Panel 2: Role of Business and Institutions
Erin Nichols, Project Manager, City of Vancouver, Solid Waste Strategic Services
Julie Dickson Olmstead, Managing Director, Public Affairs and CSR, Pattison Food Group
Businesses and institutions are (and should be) cautious about the intended and unintended consequences of any changes to the existing system
Whereas government and regulators can push policy levers for systems transformation, corporations and businesses are better positioned to assess the efficacy of both intended and unintended consequences.
Primary food producers, distributors and grocery or retail businesses are part of enormous systems that support hundreds of thousands of livelihoods. While the system is flawed, they are aware that taking action to improve it will have both intended and unintended consequences. As such, any changes to the existing system must overcome both the fear of change and organizational and behavioural inertia.
Recognizing the non-market value of food
When food advocates speak of the non-market value of food, they refer to its ability to nourish people and communities. Food has economic value beyond what people are willing to pay for it because of its cultural, social, and nutritional significance.
The issue is not just solving food waste
For instance, food waste can be sent to the incinerator and used to generate energy, and that would be a solution. However, the challenge is finding solutions that optimize the food economy as food for people first, and to do so in a way that acknowledges the non-market value of food and its ability to nourish people and communities.
Strong relationships are necessary to move the dial because they make the difference between conversations and conversations that result in action
Initiatives like the Circular Food Innovation Lab help forge and advance relationships between food sector agents to share actions and insights
The complexities of the solution are so much bigger than the food system. Income and housing stability and employment are all threatened by changes to a food system that put low-barrier jobs at risk
“…Businesses are made up of people. I think people need to bring more of themselves to the work they do. [People have] values – that really reflect the kind of society we want to live in. …it’s about change management: from the top down and the bottom up, to meet in the middle.” – Erin Nichols
Panel 3: Navigating Food Sovereignty Today
Leona Brown, Independent Indigenous Cultural Facilitator
Michael Passalacqua, Farm Operations Director, Sole Food Street Farms
“We’re so wasteful in this society, even in the foods we eat. If it’s not cooked the way we want it exactly, we send it back. It’s hard to see that and participate in it. We’re assimilated, so reliant on how things have to be perfect when we should be grateful for what we have.” – Leona Brown
We undervalue food because we are disconnected from its production
Only three percent of Vancouver’s food economy is invested in the primary production of food: this means we are deeply reliant on long-distance supply chains. Like many other cities, most of our population is very disconnected from where our food comes from.
You come to appreciate what food can be when you are growing it. Blemishes are a very natural process, not a fungus or an issue. Slug damage is no longer disgusting. You’re much more likely to try something new when you have been involved in its development. You come to appreciate its seasonality and understand why some things taste terrible in the winter: there is less nutrition and less flavour in goods that ripen under artificial or unseasonable conditions.
Land and space insecurity means that communities are limited in their ability to address food insecurity
While Vancouver does have numerous opportunities and instances of small urban farms, gardens, and not-for-profits, they are often occupying insecure or temporary spaces. The lack of secure long-term spaces means that food producers and social purpose organizations cannot adequately invest or plan for future scaling to take on any opportunities they unlock.
As we densify and develop our city, it would be beneficial and even necessary to design and deliver new land developments in such a way that there are spaces for food cultural practitioners and producers to gather.
For Indigenous communities that have thrived in balance with the land since time immemorial, severing the linkages between land and food – which represents subsistence and cultural sovereignty – has been an effective and unforgiving instrument of colonization.
The concept and practice of gratitude for the non-market value of food needs to rise to the top of the discussion
Having a hand in growing, raising, or directly sourcing and foraging your own food will create a greater appreciation for food (even imperfect food!)
Food is central to communities because of its universal connection to our lived experiences
Some lessons and solutions may be gleaned from Indigenous ways of being
Respondent: Dr. Tammara Soma
Dr. Tammara Soma, Assistant Professor, SFU, Research Director, Food Systems Lab
“When I think of circularity, I think of unity. The movement of one body… one love, one heart, one planet.
Following the three panels, Dr. Tammara Soma summarized the discussion. It is worth listening to her entire response, beginning at [1:17:35].
“[It is] unthinkable to commoditize our relations. […in] Haida values, there is no such thing as waste; it is all a gift. The salmon bone buried in the ground is not waste – it enriches the soil – it is a gift. However, this everything is a gift, nothing is a waste worldview only works when we thread the path of balance and absolute justice, where the rule of ‘only take what you need’ is headed. These are the ethics that are missing. When you go back to thinking of circularity, continue to think of one body.”
Special Thanks to Ono Vancouver
Ono Vancouver rescues surplus food from verified providers with which to cook and distribute charitable meals. In addition to restaurant consultancy, chef-on-demand services and catering through multiple community programs, Ono contributes more than 1200 meals weekly to community members experiencing food insecurity. Onovancouver.com
Ono Vancouver is currently working to set up a food program called Reroute Kitchen to generate sustainable revenue streams from food recovery and redistribution to fund their charitable work.
This Future-proofing Vancouver event series is part of the Economic Transformation Lab.