Food Justice: Setting the Table for Everyone

Food Justice, as a term, has been loosely used by many in the alternative food movement, though its meaning is slippery depending on how it is used or more precisely how it is practiced. For this reason there are some in the alternative food movement grappling with the usage of food justice in describing our work. The article below, written for the Global Educators of BC Publication (, was just such an attempt for me to better understand my food security practice.

Ian Marcuse

2013 was perhaps the year that food justice concerns attained a mainstream Canadian discussion following the damming report on our food security situation by the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to food, Mr. Olivier de Schutter. His report revealed deep levels of food insecurity in Canada, particularly in the North and in Aboriginal and Inuit communities where up to 70% of the population are unable to access nutritious, affordable food, and quite sadly within a country with great wealth. The full report can be viewed at:

Still others, such as Graham Riches from the University of British Columbia have been writing for decades about the food in/security issue in Canada. In his 1986 prescient book, Food Banks and the Welfare Crisis, Riches documents the proliferation of emergency food services in Canada, arguing that food banks represent the collapse of the social safety net and the rise of neoliberal austerity. Food banks are now institutionalized, replacing government assistance programs with charity.

Food insecurity here in Canada largely comes down to income security. Lack of work or adequate wages and other social programs have resulted in many Canadians unable to purchase enough nutritious food with food insecurity growing or persisting in every Canadian province and some 4 million Canadians currently experiencing some level of food insecurity. Particularly troubling is that of the majority of food insecure households (61.1%) were reliant on wages or salaries from employment according to the most recent Household Food Insecurity in Canada (2013) report by PROOF.

In response, recent discussions and efforts are now pointing the way towards a new food justice understanding defined by Robert Gottlieb and Anupama Joshias in their book Food Justice as “representing a transformation of the current food system, including but not limited to eliminating disparities and inequities”. This is a necessary refocusing that creates new opportunities for a deeper analysis of structural inequality in the food system and connection of the food movement to broader social movements.

This is encouraging because the narrower food localization interest that has dominated much public food discourse the last decade has largely emphasized new forms of production based on the re-emergence of smaller scale ecologically sustainable farming practices and exchange, including direct consumer to farmer exchange such as farmer’s markets or cooperatives. This is an important condition towards transforming our food system from highly commoditized and unsustainable systems dependent on capital intensive inputs and exploitative social and economic relationships, but these alternative agricultural systems still grapple with complex issues of equity perhaps most visible at the supermarket where quality nutritious food is still unaffordable for many people. We also see in these new food systems an assumption that localized production and distribution will ensure better working conditions while the conversation about labour rights and inequality is often ignored, though less so these days as in the case of farm worker rights which are now included in most food policy discussions.

Awareness of food justice is currently at a high. Here in Vancouver we have a newish Food Strategy (2013) that lays out a coordinated and comprehensive approach “in the development of a just and sustainable food system for Vancouver”. This is an important step towards incorporating food justice in a food systems change strategy. As a part of this Strategy for example are a number of community food organizations that work to build food security at the local level and who espouse food justice principals such as food equity and access to healthy, affordable, and culturally appropriate foods for those most vulnerable in our communities. Community food programs such as community gardens, bulk buy groups, pocket markets, food workshops, community meal programs, community kitchens and the like are assumed to advance food justice. While such programs do improve the food access for many struggling households, arguably, like food banks, they may be regarded as a temporary solution only. So what then constitutes food justice practice?

Kirsten Cadieux’s and Rachel Slocum’s article What Does it Mean to Do Food Justice? describe four key points of intervention necessary in transforming food systems. These include: inequity, exchange, land and labour. Through a systematic identification of such existing areas of exploitation and inequality can we then begin to put food justice into practice.

An example that illustrates well a transformative food justice practice is the work of the US organization Growing Food and Justice Initiative (GFJI) “aimed at dismantling racism and empowering low-income and communities of color through sustainable and local agriculture”. Their work is foremost validated through an ant-racist framework recognizing relations of power and privilege as they confront race and class inequity. GFJI also provides leadership, training and empowerment supporting communities of color to engage in food system policy and advocacy (systems change) and more directly by creating meaningful employment opportunities in the food and agricultural sector for these communities through non-exploitative mechanisms of cooperation, equitable land access with sound environmental practices, and fair working relations valuing all labour.

The Growing Food and Justice Initiative illustrates the importance of engagement and empowerment of those communities most affected by food insecurity, giving them a strong voice to address systemic inequality and relations of power while also creating opportunities for direct control over one’s livelihood and food situation. This is transformative work that is rebuilding a new alternative food system based on dignity and communal self-reliance. Furthermore such work is linked to the broader social justice movement.

While many food organizations are struggling to keep up with the growing demands that austerity is creating and doing their best to get healthy food into household cupboards, we still need a deeper level of engagement and leadership in decision-making and policy work inclusive of those communities most affected by food insecurity if we are to achieve true food justice. This will probably only come about through collaboration outside of the food sector and since food connects all of us, there is considerable opportunity for greater impact when we connect the food movement to these other social justice movements – environmental, , Aboriginal, feminist among others to address power and inequality. Such is a food justice practice that moves beyond basic program delivery but rather demands of us a much deeper challenge to the current neo-liberal and corporate domination of our food system.

Grandview Woodland Food Connection 2015: A Year in Reflection

Each year at this time as we reflect back on our work over the past year, we are reminded that food security for all remains an elusive right and many community residents do not have access to nutritious food in amounts necessary for good health.

2015 stands out as the year that climate change caught up to us here in Vancouver. With this past summer’s drought and stage 3 (almost a stage 4) water restrictions, we faced an enormous concern and challenge to keep our school food gardens, our largest food program, properly watered.

This drought was our wake up call and a reminder that our food security is highly vulnerable, contingent on the ability of California and Mexico to supply us fresh produce despite droughts in those areas. The consequence of these droughts is seen in the steadily rising food prices and unaffordable fresh produce for many people on limited incomes.

But, on a positive note, the Grandview Woodland Food Connection continues to offer engaging and meaningful food programming for the community and here is my top 10 highlights list for 2015.

1. The Gr11474432035_c0f87947d1_zade 3/4 Britannia Potato Farm. For the first time this year the grade 3s (then in grade 4) planted, harvested, prepared and ate their own potatoes (previously the kids did not prepare the food in the classroom as a group). We cooked up a wonderful roasted potato and veggie dish, which the kids loved, providing them the full cycle experience of growing and eating their own fresh food.



18617627133_e440cdd831_z2. Off the Grill Youth Meal Program. A fantastic group of Britannia teens made possible a successful communal meal program for all youth and community members to share in the Britannia Plaza. With the help of our wonderful volunteer chef mentors, we were treated to twice weekly dishes such as steak and eggs, chicken pesto, and Brazilian fajitas. Thank you to our funders the Rotary Club and Nutrition Link. Check out our digital story at:

18205211662_0a51274cd2_z3. Britannia School Garden Fundraiser. Our most successful fundraiser to date and great community support saw us raise $8,000 for both the Britannia school gardens and SEGA Girls School garden in Tanzania (our twin garden) thanks to matching funds from Scotia Bank.



4. Food Workshops. We produced a number of new and well attended food workshops attracting 106 participants. Our Latin American Pupusa workshop was brimming full with 16 participants. We had to organize a second Kimchi workshop due to demand while our Sausage Making workshop was also full.

16734184926_e86fa1d5b9_z5. The First Nations Carving Pavilion Garden. With support from a Neighbourhood Matching Fund grant, the GWFC is taking the lead on a new First Nations food and medicinal garden at the Britannia Carving Pavilion. Thanks to donated excavation from Octiscapes Landscaping, we dug out the old gravel and replaced with new soil. With student help, we have also been mulching like crazy preparing the soil for spring 2016 planting.

Food Share 26. Food Recovery. With support from Choices Market, we have helped reduce food waste on the Drive by reusing cosmetically inferior produce for our meal programs that would otherwise go to waste. A total of over 500 lbs of food was recovered, some of it used in the Off the Grill program.


7. Stone Soup and the Latin American Corn Festival. What can I say; these much loved community festivals remind us of the importance of celebrating good food and community arts. Best of all, both festivals were blessed with glorious sun.


19596849554_54258bbe42_z8. Saskatoon Berries and Quince. The Vancouver Fruit Tree Project delivered several full boxes of these unexpected and rare treats providing us some fantastic smoothies, jam and pie making fruit.





21361807242_f89dcbe1d3_z9. Garden 2 Plate. 9 youth, most from the Britannia Streetfront alternate program participated in a fun summer gardening and cooking program, preparing amazing lunches with food directly from the Britannia school garden. We also built a fabulous Mason Bee “motel” and installed a rain barrel.


10. Montechristo Article. Last but not least, it is nice to be recognized for our work and thank you to Montechristo Magazine for their full page spread of our work. Read the full article at: