Why prioritize food? Food nourishes, in so many ways. But not only does it provide the nutrition on which good health is built, food also helps build and sustain healthy vibrant cities. And as ‘the great connector,’ something all of us have in common, it becomes a conduit through which great things are made possible:

Right here in Toronto, all of this is proven true every day by innovative food projects such as Good Food Markets (which bring fresh food access to food deserts but also break down social isolation by creating vibrant public space in which neighbours meet and create social safety nets), community kitchens, community gardens and urban agriculture projects (which increase community engagement, reduce youth violence in at-risk communities, provide fresh produce and increase economic prosperity by extending the dollar for those who might not be able to afford both rent and healthy food.)

In Belo Horizonte, Brazil, prioritizing food has also created a dramatic reduction in poverty and malnutrition, a dramatic increase in widespread participation in civil society, and it has led to vibrant public spaces and a more healthy city overall.

1. The Challenge
How can the city work to ensure that all residents have access to healthy, affordable, culturally appropriate food and at the same time, how can Toronto encourage the growth of the food economy so that restaurants, farmers and community food markets, healthy food carts and the Toronto food industry flourish? How do we address the disparity between a thriving city centre with good food access and poorer inner suburbs that are food deserts, often with immediate access only to a convenience store with expensive, less healthy food and no fresh food?

Toronto’s recent Food Strategy, Cultivating Food Connections, sums it up well: “With more than enough produced or imported food to feed everyone well, we still have hungry families in Toronto. Likewise, most farmers are having a hard time making a living from their farms, even though they live on fertile land next to a prime market. These challenges, in the midst of so many advantages, call out for a comprehensive vision and strategy to make the most of our food system’s potential and build a healthy Toronto.”

2. The Current Situation and Chief Barriers to Progress

Source:
Cultivating Food Connections
City of Toronto 2009/2010 Student Nutrition Program Subsidies

3. Opportunities for Action
Toronto has already recognized the value of food and is a leader in the work already done, particularly through Toronto Public Health. We have a Food Charter, a Food Strategy, and a Five Year Plan for Student Nutrition. It will be important to follow through on each of these, and to continue to support theĀ Toronto Food Policy Council which has been responsible for important debate and discussion.

But to prioritize food and harvest its diverse benefits for our City and its residents, Four Key Actions are needed:

1) SAY “YES” TO FOOD:

Many things can happen before new money is spent, if Toronto would commit to saying “yes” rather than “no” to food. The City needs to:

2) SPEND MONEY TO HELP COMMUNITIES GET ORGANIZED:

Money spent on student nutrition programs and community food programs have already been proven to improve the access to healthy food for thousands in Toronto. The City needs to:

3) SUPPORT LOCAL FOOD JOBS

The City needs to:

4) COLLABORATE WITH PROVINCIAL AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENTS.

The City needs to: