If you want to know what food insecurity is, Paul Taylor is the man to answer that question. He is the executive director of FoodShare, a Toronto-based non-profit that advocates that everyone have access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. His personal experience has informed his life’s work: he was raised by a single mother on Ontario’s welfare system. He has worked as a teacher, in a Toronto homeless youth shelter and the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. We chatted with Paul about what food insecurity is, the link between racism and food insecurity and how Canadians can take action.
What is food insecurity? And what does FoodShare do to work toward making change?
Food insecurity is inconsistent or uncertain access to food due to financial constraints. There are 4.4 million people living in food insecure households in Canada. It’s a problem that is only getting worse. Since the 1980s, Canada’s default response to food insecurity has been food banking and food-based charity. Instead of dealing with this growing public health crisis, a number of politicians seem to prefer photo-ops of sorting food at food charities, instead of sorting the policies that allow households to experience food insecurity.
At FoodShare, we recognize that we can’t position our work as a solution to wicked problems like food insecurity or poverty. FoodShare’s work includes working with communities across the city of Toronto to co-create community-led food assets, such as urban farms and fresh produce markets, but our work cannot solve food insecurity. We publicly acknowledge that reality, while also recognizing the potential impact that public policy can have on food insecurity. Disappointed with the provincial government’s decision to roll back the planned increase to minimum wage, FoodShare openly challenged the Premier to live on $14/hour for the remainder of his term. More and more food charities recognize the limited role that we can play in challenging food insecurity, so we continue to advocate for a political commitment followed by a public policy approach to address this crisis.
Can you explain the link between racism and food insecurity?
The research that we conducted in partnership with PROOF, an interdisciplinary research group, looks at food insecurity in Canada. We found that anti-Black racism had much more of an impact on who gets to eat than we had imagined.
To be Black in Canada means that you’re 3.5 times more likely to live in a food insecure household than if you’re white. We also found that while 12% of white children live in food insecure households, that skyrockets to 36% for Black children.
We also looked at home ownership, which has generally been understood to correlate with lower levels of food insecurity. Unfortunately, this is only true for white households. The percentage of Black homeowners experiencing food insecurity (14.5%) is almost equal to the percentage of white renters who experience food insecurity (14.3%).
The ubiquity of anti-Black racism doesn’t end there. When it comes to immigration status, it doesn’t matter if Black people are born in Canada or abroad — the risk of food insecurity remains consistently high.
Aggregate food insecurity statistics suggest that single parent households are more likely to experience food insecurity, but for Black households it doesn’t matter how many parents are in the home, there remains a significantly higher probability of food insecurity.
How has food insecurity been impacted by COVID?
Physical distancing and other restrictions brought on by the pandemic meant that people needed to take fewer trips to the grocery store and began to stockpile food and toilet paper. Doing this was near impossible for those who were already food insecure. As the pandemic went on, we saw unprecedented job losses. All of these people suddenly had to figure out how they were going to afford to pay for rent and food.
At FoodShare we immediately pivoted so that we could deliver free Emergency Good Food Boxes filled with fresh produce to households across the city. We provided a $4/hour increase and additional paid sick days to all of the FoodShare staff involved in our pandemic response. We quickly partnered with 80 community-based groups to help identify people that were especially vulnerable. The free Good Food Boxes are being delivered to undocumented workers, survival sex workers and other individuals made vulnerable by our current system. So far we’ve provided over 26,000 free Good Food Boxes.
What is the biggest misconception people often make about food insecurity in our country?
Food insecurity will not be solved by casseroles made in community kitchens, the repurposing of two-legged carrots, donated cranberry sauce or even the current government approach of hopes and prayers. Food insecurity is an income issue that requires income based interventions. 62% of Canadians living in food insecure households derive their income from paid employment, which means that their jobs don’t lift them out of food insecurity, but instead trap them in it.
How can Canadians take action? How can we help?
You can donate (www.foodshare.net), order a Good Food Box online (it’ll be delivered straight to your home) and get involved in $15 and Fairness. We need to remind our elected officials that we have the right to food in Canada — and that it’s long overdue for food insecurity to be something that we talk about in our history books.
What is one of your favourite things you’ve cooked from your Good Food Box delivery?
I’ve signed up for a weekly subscription of the Good Food Box and I’ve added on the whole-wheat sourdough bread and the organic fair trade coffee that we sell. My breakfasts are usually 100% inspired by the Good Food Box. Most recently I’ve been enjoying my oven-roasted tofu sandwich. I marinate the tofu for 24 hours in some Frank’s Hot Sauce, olive oil and smoked paprika. I roast it for 20 minutes and then throw it on some sourdough bread with sliced cucumbers, mayo, a slice of tomato and then stuff it with the living pea shoots that came in this week’s box. On the side, I chop up fresh carrot sticks and celery.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo of Paul Taylor courtesy of Daniel Neuhaus; remaining photos courtesy of FoodShare