Food serves us in many ways. While we often think about food as being nurturing and delicious (and it is that!), it can also be powerful — and as a creative new campaign combating anti-Asian hate demonstrates, that power can be used for good.
Anti-Asian prejudice is not new in Canada, but overt bouts of anti-Asian hate and violence are spiking (as just one example, according to 2020 data from the Angus Reid Institute, 43 per cent of Canadians of Chinese ethnicity report being threatened or intimidated as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak). Surges in anti-Asian discrimination and violence can be frightening and disheartening — but it’s hard to know what, tangibly, we can do to counter it. Enter Dump the Hate, a campaign that offers a way to counter anti-Asian prejudice and support Asian communities through the simple act of sharing food.
What is #DumpTheHate?
Created by a Canadian food blogger and chef, Jannell Lo, Dump the Hate is a virtual dumpling-making fundraiser that combines food (inviting participants to make and sell dumplings to friends and family) with activism (in addition to raising awareness, the proceeds made from the dumplings are to be donated to organizations supporting the Asian community).
The campaign has raised more than $30,000 so far — and more than 10,000 dumplings have been made and savoured. Toronto’s Timothy Chan has raised over $1,900 for the campaign by making 900 dumplings. While Timothy started making dumplings recently as a way to get in touch with his Chinese heritage, the #DumpTheHate campaign offered a unique way to further that connection in a significant way. “The spike in anti-Asian hate crimes was weighing very heavily on me,” Timothy says. “Dump the Hate was a perfect opportunity for me to channel my energy, emotions and effort into a meaningful initiative.”
“Many friends and family who have supported my dumpling drive said they didn’t know how to show their solidarity for the Asian community,” Timothy says. “Dump the Hate is a great way for people to turn their anti-racist intention into impact.”
While the #DumpTheHate campaign is certainly a fun and effective way to spread positively and support the community, it’s one (admittedly, delicious) step in the larger milieu of countering anti-Asian hate and prejudice. “Love us — the Asian community — like you love our food,” Timothy says. “I hope the dumplings will help fuel people’s commitment to anti-racism and empower them to show up, speak up and interrupt racism.”
How You Can Help
While Timothy plans to continue his dumpling-making initiative after the conclusion of Dump the Hate on April 4 (Timothy has a wait list), he also highlights the importance of supporting Asian-owned businesses: “Many businesses were hit hard because of the pandemic, but the impact on Asian-owned businesses was intensified by racism.”
Want to take part in Dump the Hate and learn how to make mouth-watering dumplings at home? Register for the live Zoom dumpling-making class, hosted by My Kitchen My Heart’s Allison Chang, this Saturday April 3, 2021 at 2PM PST/5PM EST. Proceeds from the class will be donated to Heart of Dinner.
For Yasmeen Persad, food is all about community — and, as the trans program coordinator at Toronto’s non-profit organization The 519, she’s had plenty of opportunities to indulge in her passion for cooking and making memories. In particular, with the Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC), which is funded by the Toronto Urban Health Fund and runs out of The 519 (virtually during COVID-19). “There’s nothing like cooking together in the [519’s] kitchen in a circle and having conversations and seeing the smiles on people’s faces,” Persad says. “There’s a social support component to it.”
While the program touches on a variety of topics, from sexual health to homemade recipes, food insecurity and trans nutrition are ones that pop up frequently. Considered a safe space by many in Toronto’s trans community, Persad believes these oft-taboo subjects are seeing the light during TPOC meetings because people feel more comfortable broaching the subjects. “If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that,” she says. “People think, ‘Oh, it will lower my self-esteem to ask for help to access food.’”
According to a Statistics Canada report, the average Canadian spends $214 per month on groceries. However, racialized trans and non-binary people in Canada face higher levels of discrimination than others, resulting in housing inequality, a lack of job opportunities and food insecurity.
To combat the issue and raise awareness, TPOC focused their efforts on crafting Cooking With Trans People of Colour, a cookbook that offers a plethora of diverse recipes inspired by group leaders and program participants. In addition, among its many vibrant pages, are nutrition facts and sexual health stats. “The cookbook represents a history of racialized trans people, [both] those who have passed away and folks who are present,” Persad explains. “We want this to be a celebration for all trans people of colour across the board. We want this to be a recognition and a celebration.”
With Trans Day of Visibility coming up on March 31, 2021, we chatted with Yasmeen Persad about the cookbook, food insecurity in the trans community and how Canadians can take action.
How would you define food insecurity and how does the TPOC program help?
“Food security — for a number of the people that access our programs — has always been a challenge. [This is] because of their identities and the lack of access to places that offers food that represents them. It’s a struggle not just to get food, but to get healthy food. The program was designed to look at that issue specifically because racialized trans people experience higher levels of food insecurity. This is for many reasons: race, identity, being a newcomer to Canada or a refugee. The way we decided to address this issue was to create a cooking program where trans people of colour could come in and talk while cooking at the same time — sharing food, sharing recipes, sharing stories. This way, folks would get good food and also a meal to take home with them.”
Tell us about how the cookbook came together.
“So much work and love went into it. [The recipes are] quite different than the average ones you would probably encounter because most of the folks that come to the program weren’t born in Canada. They’re either an immigrant or a refugee. Whenever we cooked together [before COVID-19] the staff would pass by and everybody would say, ‘Oh my god, what smells so good? Can I get the recipe?’ And that’s where [the idea] stemmed into a cookbook we could share with people. However, we didn’t want to just do a general cookbook. We wanted to add different components to it to make it a lot more interesting — by addressing sexual health and adding some fun pieces to it.”
The TPOC team, featuring (top L-R): Evana Ortigoza and Angel Glady, and (bottom L-R): Mariana Cortes, Yasmeen Persad and Christy Joseph.
How would you describe the link between food insecurity and racism?
“Folks who are racialized often find that the types of food they would want to cook or experience — or any food they might get through food banks or drop-ins — don’t necessarily reflect [the meals] of racialized people. Therefore, a lot of folks might not go to a general cooking program because they’re like, ‘This food doesn’t represent me, I don’t know what to do with this food, I can’t cook this food, it’s not a part of who I am or part of my culture.’ And that was really a key part of this — the [TPOC] participants would come, we’d ask them what they would like to cook and we’d try to bridge [the gap] between racism and food insecurity.”
Primavera Beef With Plantains and Black Beans, a recipe by Evana Ortigoza in the Cooking With Trans People of Colour cookbook
How has food insecurity in the trans community been affected by COVID?
“It’s been affected terribly because, prior to this, people could have come to physically get the food. That has been a real challenge. However, the way we decided to address the food insecurity [that arose from the pandemic] was by still cooking and having people come pick up the food. That was part of the way The 519 as a whole, and embedded with TPOC, has been addressing food insecurity.”
There is a lack of research on trans nutrition. Is this something that comes up often during discussions at TPOC meetings?
“It does. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions around the trans community, in general, and what food is available in terms of how it impacts hormones, surgeries and health benefits. In the cookbook, we promote hormones and healthy eating and TPOC participants would often ask during our discussions, ‘I started hormones, is there maybe something that I shouldn’t be eating too much or less of?’ Of course, we’re not nutritionists, but we try to draw from our own lived experiences to guide folks through that process.”
Many of the nutritional needs discussed in the program and cookbook are based on lived realities. Can you speak to that a bit?
“We wanted the cookbook to represent real people’s lives — we really wanted to bring a trans human experience to it. Because the group is also strongly embedded in talking about sexual health, we wanted to address those pieces and talk about it in an affirming way. Often, when you talk about trans people living with or affected by HIV, there are so many negative stigmas attached to it. Similarly, with hormone therapy. We want to make this real, but we also want to shine on this in a positive light. We want it to show that you can be someone living with HIV and have a healthy life — and you don’t have to eat food that’s not desirable to you.”
How can Canadians help and take action?
“Everyone should look at food insecurity as a social health issue. Just as we have access to medical care, we should think of food in the same way. The way people could help support us is by donating to The 519 website. The cookbook will have a donate button and that would continue to help support the program and help to give racialized trans folks access to healthy food. [Food insecurity] is also not talked about enough — and when it is, it’s always negative. If you don’t have access to food, there’s a lot of shame and stigma attached to that. Together [we] can talk about it in such a way that helps people see it in a different light.”
Where to buy the cookbook
Digital Copy: Download the PDF via The 519 website as of March 26, 2021. Price: Donate what you can. Hard Copy: Swing by Toronto’s Glad Day Bookshop. Price: Still to be announced.
The Trans People of Colour Project (TPOC) fosters affirming support, greater access to food security and access to meaningful sexual health promotion information for racialized trans folks. TPOC is an integral component of The 519’s support of BIPOC 2Spirit, trans and non-binary community members within The 519 — and has continued to provide support through the pandemic. Between 2019-2020, TPOC had over 300 visits to the drop-in. To learn more about TPOC, visit their website.
For generations, Jews across the world have gathered to scoop fluffy matzo balls from chicken soup and slice piping hot beef brisket — but before they dig into their festive Passover seder meal, they must read a Haggadah. “Basically the Haggadah is… a guidebook, it’s a workbook, it’s a resource all at once. If anything, it’s a lot like a zine,” explained Rabbi Andrea Myers who serves queer Jewish communities in Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa. In sum: the Haggadah is where you talk about the Passover seder plate, sing songs, ask questions and talk about struggles.
The Book of Exodus in the Torah (or the Old Testament) tells the Passover story of how the Hebrews escaped slave labour at the hands of the Egyptian Pharaoh (spoiler alert: Moses parts the Red Sea and they get away). But while the Exodus text is always the same, there are hundreds, if not thousands of versions of Haggadot (plural of Haggadah), all meant to spark discussion about what we can learn from this collective historical trauma. “It’s not necessarily about the freedom per se, it’s really so much about the struggle,” Myers said. “And in our world today, we understand that we’re not the only ones that struggle.”
Over time, Haggadot have gone beyond the Exodus tale, reflecting the struggles facing Jews and the communities they share the world with. For instance, the ornate Szyk Haggadah drawn in the mid-1930s highlighted links between Nazi persecution of the Jews and the Pharaoh. In 1997, the Stonewall Seder brought the plight of LGBTQ2+ communities to the forefront.
“The world is a very complex and fraught and grieving place and we need to just be real about that, which is what I think that these Haggadot are saying,” Myers said. “That’s why I love Passover so much because it’s an opportunity for us in our own communities and families or core groups or whatever constellations people have for each other to have these conversations.”
Different foods or cutlery are also now commonly added to the seder meal in order to ignite mindful discussion. “I use a blood orange to represent missing and murdered Indigenous women and it’s not something that people would know unless they’re asked about it,” Myers said.
Having Your Own Progressive Seder
Ahead of the meal, Myers suggests having a frank conversation with those gathering around your table, virtual or not, about the issues most important to everyone. You don’t need to focus on just one struggle since many Haggadot online are short (Haggadot.com is a helpful tool that lets you customize your own Haggadah).
The idea isn’t to start a fierce mandlen (soup nuts) fight but to show solidarity with other people’s struggles. “Are we going to be people who sit back and say, ‘Oh well, we got ours.’ Or are we going to follow the ethical imperative to look and say, ‘Hey, here’s what we learned, how can we help you?’” Myers asked. “I think [this] is a very valid conversation to have, particularly when there are kids involved when we’re trying to role model what it means to repair the world.”
Did you enjoy this interview? Read more! Here’s our chat with Joshna Maharaj (on food insecurity and inclusion in Canada’s hospitality industry).
Photo of Andrea Myers courtesy of Andrea Myers; food photos courtesy of Getty Images
From dalgona coffee to sourdough to focaccia bread art, it may seem like Canadians are spending more time learning about food and getting creative in the kitchen, but a recent survey from Dalhousie University suggests that may not be true for most Canadians.
In fact, the study from the university’s Agri-Food Analytics Lab seeking to determine if Canadians are any more food literate since the start of the pandemic found that we only have slightly greater understanding of how food choices impact our health, our community, the environment and the economy.
Being food literate means having the mindset, the knowledge and the related skills to make more informed decisions when navigating meal planning. Of the 10,004 Canadians surveyed, only about 40 per cent were able to explain what food literacy means.
Furthermore, mealtime at home during the pandemic may not be getting any easier, despite the greater amount of time people are spending at home; the report reveals that only 37.5 per cent of surveyed Canadians feel their meal planning skills improved during the pandemic.
But there is some good news: slightly more than half (56 per cent) of the respondents shared they are making most of their meals since the pandemic began, while nearly half of those surveyed said they’ve tried a new ingredient, whether it be a spice (68 per cent), veggies (37 per cent) or oils (28 per cent).
The study’s lead author and director of the lab, Sylvain Charlebois, acknowledged that cooking is an act of empowerment that allows individuals to take control of what they eat.
For an industry that celebrates multiculturalism, Canada’s hospitality and food-service sectors still have a long way to go when it comes to authentically reflecting the country’s diversity. Here is how chef, author and community activist Joshna Maharaj is working to change that, one meal at a time.
Can you tell us about your work as a chef, author and food activist?
I’ve never been a restaurant chef and I’ve never been excited about being a restaurant chef. My work really focuses on the grassroots experiences of people. I do a lot of community food security work. For the last nine years, I’ve been working to rebuild food systems in public institutions. I’m sure you have some connection to institutional food — for example, either you’ve been in hospitals or someone you love has been in a hospital and you must have seen this sort of dismal offering. That needs some rethinking and some new priorities. This has been my focus.
What are the biggest diversity and inclusion gaps you see currently in the hospitality industry?
[The gaps] are mega and they exist from the micro-level to the macro-level. My friends and family have sort of giggled that I decided to jump into an industry predominantly populated by white guys. And it’s not even just that I went in there as a woman of colour to do this work, but that I decided I wanted to do this a completely different way. I would just hit a wall all the time… everything from the way we teach people to be a chef, to the actual on-the-ground experience that chefs have in the kitchens, it’s all about a white male standard.
One of the things that I hope to do before my last breath is to really untangle our culinary curriculum; I believe that right now, the way we are as cooks, the way we are as eaters, the current context of the culinary curriculum is really an instrument of colonization [based on a French standard]. So the gaps are many and they’re on a number of levels.
How does this gap impact consumers?
I think perhaps the most glaring example of this is how we understand fine dining and that restaurant experience. BIPOC chefs and cooks who are cooking food from their traditions — it seems as though there’s an expectation from eaters that the food of Brown people will continue to be cheap and available cheaply. There’s resistance to that connection [to fine dining] being made.
There’s a number of reasons why that’s a problem, but one of the great comparisons is a Chinese noodle dish versus an Italian pasta dish. Because you can get an Italian pasta dish for $25 for three ravioli and we’re cool with it. For an arguably more complex noodle dish, we won’t tolerate paying more than $9 for that. And it comes in a Styrofoam container and it’s cheap and it’s fast. We’ve really locked this model in and that perhaps is one of the biggest experiences that an eater has in all of this. Because they’re also complicit in this to some degree.
But this idea that a European table is the fine dining table and kind of everything else is just trying to be “something.” The trickle down of that messaging can be super, super damaging.
These restaurants have lower average sales. They really are struggling because there’s no safety room — those margins are so, so narrow. The pandemic has just exasperated what has been a longstanding phenomenon.
How do racism and inequality translate into the food service and hospitality space?
From the perspective of the BIPOC cook, that’s obviously the one I’m mostly connected to, I know the biggest frustrations are about being taken seriously. What am I going to do? How am I going to grow? Do I need to get the endorsement of some white person to come in so that people see that light face and then get excited about paying more money for this food?
From the perspective of the eater, eaters are just a bit clued out and they get a bit frustrated themselves about not really knowing how to navigate all of this.
What local businesses or organizations are doing it right in this space?
Some of our non-profit organizations are really leading the way. FoodShare and The Stop are two that are really pushing this conversation forward. Because I come from a grassroots community food security background, it really is meaningful to me that this conversation is happening there. There needs to be a really radical shift in our understanding around privilege, particularly when we talk about food security and vulnerable people, poverty, social assistance, you know, all that kind of rolls in, because BIPOC people are disproportionately affected and finding themselves in a line at a food bank or a dining car.
I think that as an industry, we could learn a lot by paying more attention to grassroots organizations. There’s a bit more connection to justice there. We are in a moment right now where we have a chance to rebuild [hospitality and food service] and we really have a very cool opportunity to see the way grassroots food organizations are doing things.
And if our restaurant vibe looked a little bit more like our community food security vibe, I would be very, very happy to see that… this sort of radical inclusion and accessibility… everything from how dining rooms are set up to how buildings are built to how you build menus so that they are as inclusive as possible while still [serving] locally sourced, seasonal ingredients. Hospitality is ultimately about maintaining people’s dignity.
What could the average consumer do to help support greater diversity in the food-service industry?
Some self-reflection and awareness are the first step, because not everybody has money to give financial support. I do think a lot of the challenges exist in our attitudes.
Take a look at the landscape around you and take a look at the restaurants. Take a look at how you understand prices on the menu and what you see when you see a $25 dish. And then, if you’re able, seek out BIPOC-owned restaurants and really think about under-accessed spots.
If everybody just paused for a moment, took a few deep breaths and confronted their own attitudes about where they are willing to spend their money and how they understand just who is a chef — who looks like a chef — very often this [describing herself] is not the image that comes up when they imagine the chef.
(Editor’s Note: If you question that, just try doing a Google image search on the word “chef” yourself and see the images that come up for you).
What are you personally looking forward to in the food-service space?
I’m actually really, really hopeful that there’s a renewed appreciation and a valuing of all of the elements in our food system, from farmers to cooks to the people who drive the trucks in-between. I’d hope [consumers] can really appreciate that this food system exists so we have a broader, more accurate understanding of what it takes to make that happen. This was an industry that was wholeheartedly taken for granted, but we also have a wonderful opportunity to rethink it.
Can you tell us a bit more about your book Take Back the Tray?
Take Back the Tray is half-story and half-narrative about my work in overhauling three major institutions’ food systems: two hospitals and a university. Hopefully, it also provides some solid marching orders for change. I want a blueprint for the revolution as well as a compelling story. It really identifies the weakest of the failings of the industrial food system and our reliance on it. Our collective deprioritization of food has really resulted in some solidly damaging impacts to our lives, the planet and our economy. But there’s a very viable, delicious, chewy way forward. I am very excited about that.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Photo of Joshna Maharaj courtesy of Joshna Maharaj; food box photo courtesy of Getty Images; book photo courtesy of ECW Press; remaining photos courtesy of Unsplash
In a new report released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, Canadians who were worried about having enough food during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring were more likely to view their mental health as poor compared to those who were not.
“Food insecurity in itself can be a stressful experience,” said Heather Gilmour, Statistics Canada analyst and report co-author. “So associated with that can be feelings of frustration or powerlessness or even shame — and those kinds of feelings could trigger existing psychological problems or amplify existing ones or trigger new ones.”
The Statistics Canada report said 14.6 per cent of the respondents to the May 2020 survey experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. One in five survey respondents to the survey also perceived their mental health as fair or poor or reported moderate or severe anxiety symptoms.
“We did find that, yes, food insecurity was associated with higher odds or higher risk of having either anxiety symptoms or poor self-recorded mental health,” Gilmour said. “That seemed to increase, that risk increased, the greater the food insecurity that people experienced.”
The holidays are one of the most delicious times of the year – and while 2020 is making us reimagine typical festive traditions, you can always count on Food Network Canada as a source of inspiration, no matter what you’re craving. Here, we’ve rounded up an all-new selection of holiday shows featuring your favourite faces and enough delectable recipes to fill your stockings twice, plus classic shows that you’ll love watching any time of the year! Watch Food Network Canada on STACKTV with Amazon Prime Video Channels all December long.
Who Should Watch: The family whose Christmas tree has been up and decorated since November
Fan favourite Buddy Valastro returns for a brand new competition, this one decidedly more nice than naughty. It’s a completely new side of Buddy, as he’s pushed outside of his cake-creating comfort zone to compete against talented artists and design magical, holiday-inspired creations.
Who Should Watch: Anyone missing big holiday get-togethers with family and friends
Geoffrey Zakarian, along with his family and celebrity friends, is sharing his treasured traditions and festive recipes with you in this one-hour special that’s the perfect way to get into the holiday spirit.
Who Should Watch: Restaurant renovation aficionados
In these special episodes, host Robert Irvine heads back to previously visited failing restaurants to check in with the owners and discover their progress since the initial visit and see how things have changed.
The classic board game is brought to life in Candy Land, hosted by Kristen Chenoweth! Competitors travel around the board, plucking ingredients straight out of the game and building their sweet masterpieces along the way. You’ll be transported directly into a childhood fantasy with this sweet new series.
Eddie Jackson and Ree Drummond are back hosting a new season of this sweet competition. In each episode, five bakers compete to find out if their holiday cookie-making skills are worthy of Santa’s nice list (plus a cool $10,000 prize).
Superfoods are (typically) plant-based, nutrient-dense foods that contain antioxidants, healthy fats, fibre and a slew of other vitamins and minerals. The superfoods list is pretty expansive and ranges from blueberries and salmon to Greek yogurt, beans and whole grains. Basically they’re foods that max out on the nutritional benefits while minimizing overall caloric intake. So what’s the problem? Well as it turns out, there’s a pretty dark side to some of these superfoods and they can come with all kinds of surprising ethical, economic and cultural side effects. This is particularly noteworthy when superfoods become trendy (avocado toast anyone?), resulting in a large supply and demand. Let’s take a look.
Kale chips and salad may have decreased in popularity over the past few years, but the leafy green continues to top many superfood lists. If you continue to add it to your plate, then where you get it matters. A large amount of kale is grown on the United States’ West Coast and shipped to Canada via truck, which has a pretty significant environmental impact. Ecologists at Cornell University estimate that to grow, wash, package, transport and keep one pound of the greens chilled for that journey requires 4,600 calories of fossil fuel energy. That packs a pretty big environmental impact.
What you can do: Pay attention to where your greens come from and try to buy local. Kale is one of the easiest vegetables to grow during a Canadian summer, so you could also consider planting your own and eating it in season.
Avocado toast, guacamole, sushi… there are so many delicious ways to enjoy this creamy green fruit, which is often referred to as nature’s mayonnaise. It’s no wonder that avocados have become a staple at produce sections across the country. At first, the farmers in Michoacán, Mexico — one of the only places on Earth where avocados can grow year-round — were fans of the growing trend. But then the cartels caught on, who have been extorting the farmers — as well as the sellers of fertilizer and pesticides — ever since. Some farmers who have been unwilling to cooperate have allegedly been attacked or killed.
Quinoa is high in protein and quite filling, which has made this grain a staple in vegetarian and vegan plates for years now. Unfortunately, quinoa’s growing popularity has spelled disaster for many farmers in South America where it hails — typically in Peru and Bolivia. There, farmers used to cycle their crops with the help of llamas and other animals. But in order to meet growing demand they have sold off their livestock and invested in farming equipment instead, which has resulted in decreased soil fertility. Also, as demand for quinoa grew worldwide, it tripled in price and became too expensive for the locals who have long relied on it as their main source of food. The situation has improved in recent years as countries like Australia, the United States and Canada have found ways to grow it locally.
What you can do: There is ongoing debate as to whether it is better: to buy local and help keep food costs down or to buy from the Andes and invest in the farmers there whose livelihoods depend on production. While there are points for each side, the main consensus seems to be that if you are going to indulge in a bowl of quinoa, ensure that it is certified fair trade.
Health experts still seem to be divided as to whether coconuts (including coconut oil, milk and water) is actually a superfood or a hidden source of fat. If you do incorporate coconuts into your diet though, you should consider how they’re sourced. There are many countries that train and use young pig-tailed macaque monkeys to pick coconuts for production, since the animals are able to harvest up to 1,600 coconuts daily — way more than humans ever could. As a result there have been many allegations of animal mistreatment and abuse in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
What you can do: Make sure to educate yourself on where your coconuts are coming from. PETA has a handy list of offenders, as well as companies that have severed ties with producers that use monkeys for their harvest.
Chocolate as a superfood? Um, yes please. Who doesn’t love knowing that a sweet treat could actually be good for them? Cacao — AKA the raw, unrefined pods that grow on cacao trees — is loaded with antioxidants, is the highest plant-based source of iron and is even a natural mood elevator. However, our love for all things chocolate (sweetened or otherwise) has led to some serious deforestation problems in countries like the Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Ghana, where producers are clearing forests to make room for new crops. Poverty for underpaid farmers is also an issue and they often turn to child labour or slavery as a result.
What you can do: Read the labels and do your research. Major chocolate brands have taken positive steps in the past few years to source ethical cacao. But in order to really ensure that you’re choosing with your heart, see if the company in question publishes an impact report on its website or if it uses third parties to certify any “ethical” trademarks. You can also advocate for change and take several other steps as outlined in this report.
Loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and minerals, salmon has long been linked to benefits like improved brain function and better neurological health. However there have been many reported problems over the years of unethically farmed fish being loaded up with potential chemicals, putting the “superfood” part of the fish in question. And as for the fresh stuff? Overfished waters are also a serious problem worldwide .
Food is political and should be rooted in justice. That’s the message that’s at the core of the work of 23-year-old urban farmer Cheyenne Sundance.
Sundance Harvest, started by Cheyenne when she was just 21, was created based on a void she saw for farms operating in an ethical lens in the for-profit farming industry. “What farm would I want to see when I was younger? What farm would I want to work at and learn from? And I literally just created it from that,” she says of her Toronto-based urban farm.
Her farming career began after she turned 18 and worked on a socialist farm in Cuba. Working with many Afro-Indigenous and Black Cubans, she was introduced to the ideas of food justice and sovereignty. “Access to food is affected by someone’s health status, socioeconomic status. There’s data from U of T that correlates food insecurity and food injustice to Black and Indigenous people being the most systemically affected. So I started understanding those things and noticing these trends,” Cheyenne says.
Can you tell us about how Sundance Harvest came about?
I could not find a farm that existed in Toronto with those same values, that also respected the workers, paid them a fair wage and was actually trying to further food justice.
I wasn’t really thinking so much about “Is this the most profitable farm?” because for Sundance Harvest, it’s my full-time job and has been for a year and a half, but I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t just having a farm that exists in a vacuum. I want to have a farm that is planting the seeds and all these other small farms are grown from my farm and that’s why I started a program called Growing in the Margins as soon as I started Sundance Harvest.
I didn’t want to be a farm that relies on grants and I didn’t want Sundance Harvest to be a not-for-profit. I wanted to make sure my farm was profitable, so I have a CSA three seasons of the year and I also sell at farmers’ markets year-round.
Mentorship is at the core of your work. Can you tell us more about the farming education programs you’ve developed?
[On Growing in the Margins] It’s a free urban agriculture mentorship for youth who are BIPOC, queer, trans, two-spirit, non-binary and also youth with disabilities. Youth who are marginalized and low-income within the food system have the ability to take [the program] Growing in the Margins for free. They either want to start their own farm, have a career in urban agriculture or start their own food sovereignty movements and I teach them everything I know about the basics of starting a farm. Growing in the Margins is not for gardeners, because it’s primarily focused on mentorship.
[On Liberating Lawns] When COVID hit, the city of Toronto was not opening community gardens and I am part of a group that was trying to lobby to have them open them. If we hypothetically can’t get community gardens to open, what are ways that I can have people grow food? The easiest way is private land. Working with the city is like watching paint dry, so I decided to start Liberating Lawns, which basically matches up landholders with growers. My next intake is this fall, in September.
What are some of the challenges you faced with racism/sexism/ageism within the food system and how did you address them?
One is big corporate farms that operate on colonial and white supremacist ideals. There is a corporate farm in Toronto — also a couple of the non-profits — that is actively harming the food justice movement. It was so hard starting Sundance Harvest. Finding land and basically competing with corporate farms who have really wealthy investors and backers to help them get these large properties that I don’t have the privilege to because I don’t have those connections. I would also say corporate gentrification of urban farming in Toronto which exists and is happening very rapidly [and] is really scary because a lot of community land is turning into corporate farms, probably in the next couple years.
It makes it really hard for someone who’s in a position like I am, who does face intersectionality oppression. Because I have no wealthy parents, I have no investors, I don’t have a degree. I don’t really have anything to start my farm off of. What would really help in the future would be grants, subsidies and the city zoning for urban agriculture, because there’s currently no zoning for urban agriculture. One of the biggest hurdles was the total lack of support [from] the city. [Access to] land is also one of the biggest issues.
What advice can you offer to Canadians interested in growing their own food?
One of the easiest ways to start gardening is to do container growing. [It’s] super easy and you don’t have to worry about making sure you have the right soil and if it’s draining enough because that’s a whole other issue.
For people who are Black or Indigenous, the best thing I can say is to reach out to other people who are Black and Indigenous or both in your area who are doing the work already because they’ll know who to connect, who to talk to, what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. I’ve found that creating a community has really helped me in expanding Sundance so quickly. I started Sundance Harvest a year ago. I doubled the size of my greenhouse to a production that is 2,600 square feet and bought a 2.5-acre farm. I’ve done all that in a year. It’s really helped me connecting and getting tips, because farming while Black, it takes a lot of lived experience to do it right.
What other actions can non-farming Canadians take in their everyday life?
The first and most obvious one is purchasing your produce from a CSA. It’s a produce box you get each week. When someone buys a CSA, they usually buy it in the springtime and what that does is gives the farmer money upfront to buy seeds and equipment. If you can purchase a CSA, it’s great to buy one from a POC. Purchasing from a CSA helps small farms — and the more small farms we have, the more youth that can be trained on those small farms and they’ll get experience and start their own.
The second is to look into your neighbourhood (or town or city) and see what’s being done about urban agriculture. If you can, volunteer at a local non-profit that does urban agriculture and ask them, “What would you like to be seeing?” Once you know that from the people that are in the industry, write to your MPs or your city councillors and say that you value urban agriculture.
What are your favourite crops to grow and why? Do you have a favourite recipe you make from your produce?
I’m going to say the easiest one – kale. Kale is the easiest crop to grow, same with Swiss chard. I like making a kale Caesar salad. I swap out Romaine for kale because it’s way more nutritionally-dense. You can marinate it overnight and have it as a cool dinner party dish. With Swiss chard, I love substituting it for lettuce in sandwiches because it has a thicker crunch.
Ren Navarro loves beer. If you ask her to pin down one favourite, she can’t – there’s simply too many to choose from for a connoisseur such as herself. “That’s like seeing someone with multiple kids and asking them, ‘which is your favourite child?’,” she says with a laugh.
Like many people who enjoy a cold pint, the Kitchener, Ont. native prefers her beer options diverse – in flavour, appearance, aroma and mouthfeel. But she’s also at the forefront of change in the industry, pushing for more inclusion of diverse people in places where it’s lacking – mainly representation in breweries and in advertising. In an effort to kick start a larger national conversation, Navarro created Beer.Diversity. Launched in 2018, the company addresses the “lack of diversity in the Canadian beer industry” head-on while offering ways for the community to work together to make it more inclusive and approachable for people of colour, those in the LGBTQ+ community and beyond.
After a career as a sales rep for a renowned brewery, Navarro identified a sizeable gap in the industry and sought to fill it with people from a variety of backgrounds. She first co-founded the Toronto-based Society of Beer-Drinking Ladies (SOBDL), which was a smashing success, welcoming all female-identifying people who wanted to bond over brewskies (fun fact: it’s now the largest women-focused beer group in North America) before setting her sights on Beer.Diversity. We chatted with Navarro about her time working in the industry, the gradual changes in representation and how diversity of flavours can help the Canadian beer industry.
Tell us a bit about your decision to place periods between “beer” and “diversity.”
“I talk about beer. Period. I talk about diversity. Period. I talk about the diversity in beer – all the different styles – and I talk about the diversity of beer, including all people and backgrounds [that are involved]. The name was dreamt up about two-and-a-half years ago, although the company is branching out – it’s not just beer anymore, but it’s too late to change the name and I have no idea what I’d change it to.” [laughs]
You’re on the frontline of change in this industry. What shifts have you seen so far with breweries regarding diversity – both the successes and challenges?
“I’ve been in the beer [industry] for seven-and-a-half years, which is why I’m so passionate about it. I don’t think you can be in beer for that long and be ‘meh’ about it. [When] I started there weren’t a lot of people who looked like me – there weren’t a lot of women, in general. Now we’re seeing more diversity – not just in terms of women or people of colour, but also those from different backgrounds such as Indigenous brewers, people with disabilities and older folks. I think we still have a far way to go, though, because it’s still only a small handful. You think about all the beer consumers and what they look like – we need to reflect that more within in the industry itself.”
How can Canadian breweries work towards the type of diversity you’re promoting and where do we go from here?
“I think it’s about education. We need to get to the point where we can show that it’s open to everyone. Representation always matters. Stop being so scared. There is this fear of the unknown or fear of being perceived as being fake. The more people you can welcome in, the better it’s going to do. Baby steps, but it’s happening.”
What changes are you seeing with representation for the LGBTQ+ community?
“There’s definitely more partnerships and community outreach – and it’s not just about Pride Month saying we should talk about this group of people. It’s become more about working together for a common goal. For a brewery, engaging more people means they will make more money, but it’s also about highlighting groups that don’t get the spotlight on a regular basis. Working with an LGBTQ+ community is win-win for everyone involved because people who didn’t think that they were welcome within the beer community learn that they are – and [in turn they] learn that they’ve got certain skills that are invaluable to the brewery [workforce].”
How can diversity help shape beer varieties and recipes?
“It happens when you start looking outside of the ‘norm.’ Think about all those fun beers that come out in the summer, like guava or pineapple-passion fruit. These are fruits that are known to certain groups. I’ve seen a passion fruit tree, but a lot of people haven’t. For me, that’s about being part of a Caribbean background – it’s about the acknowledgement that there are other flavours. It’s bridging that gap because a group of people that may not have thought they were welcome within the beer community are seeing things that they know as a regular, everyday [item]. I think seeing the diversity – and seeing that breweries are willing to make changes – leads to the inclusion of [even] more people.”
What’s your favourite Canadian craft beer or brewery?
“That’s like the hardest question ever. [laughs] Oh man, I love a lot of beer. I really love the things that Left Field are doing; they’re in Toronto. Muddy York, who is also in Toronto and Dominion City Brewing, which is in Ottawa – I think all three of them make fantastic beers, but they are also community-driven. For me, a lot of it is about ‘what does the brewery do [about diversity]’? You can make the best beer, but if you don’t interact with the community, it doesn’t matter. I know you asked which one is my favourite beer, but I’ll say all three of those.” [laughs]
This interview has been edited and condensed.
First photo courtesy of Racheal McCaig; second photo courtesy of Chris Thiessen/Toque Ltd.
Remember eating out? You know, that thing you do at a restaurant? (Remember restaurants?!). After about five months of social distancing, I certainly didn’t. Sure, we’d ordered in a few times and picked up from a couple of our favourite local haunts to try and support small businesses, but sitting down at an actual restaurant, ordering food off the menu and having a date night or lunch out with my friends had become a foreign concept. So when most of Ontario entered Stage 3, my husband and I decided to do what we’d seen other brave souls do in Stage 2 and we hit up a patio for lunch (without the kids!). And truthfully, it was all kinds of weird and glorious. In other words, it’s what we’re all calling the new normal.
I will no longer take for granted: deciding to go out for dinner without an entire attack plan in my head.
Do you know anyone who needs to know everything about a situation before entering it or else they’re crippled with anxiety? Oh hi there, that’s me. When we decided to finally venture out for a meal, I put a call out to friends and family on social media to see who had actually dined out recently and what it was really like. I was genuinely shocked at how many people I knew had gone out not just once or twice, but three, four, even five times. Although everyone’s experiences had differed, almost everyone stuck to the patio. And everyone I spoke with seemed to agree that they felt totally fine. Before, I used to just want to scour the menu ahead of time to see what I might be interested in eating, but now I want to know what kind of precautions people are taking, how strictly the rules seem to be enforced and whether people are actually wearing those masks.
I will no longer take for granted: NOT having to remember to pack a mask in my purse along with my keys, phone and wallet.
Let’s be clear, my husband and I are following the recommendation to wear a mask — we’re just rule followers like that. But that doesn’t mean we like wearing them. So while we already knew we wouldn’t have to wear a mask on the patio where we chose to eat, we couldn’t figure out if we should wear them in the parking lot or on our walk up to the restaurant. They were seating people outside, so ultimately we decided we didn’t need to wear them, but we brought them in case we needed to go inside and use the washrooms. Honestly, even that quick walk from the car to the patio without a mask felt super weird and it immediately made me apprehensive.
I will no longer take for granted: the anonymity of eating out.
The spaced out tables weren’t the only immediate differences I noticed. At this point the restaurant was also seating inside, but we didn’t feel great about that option and remained outdoors. Still, there were stickers on the floor to indicate the six-foot rule and we had to fill out a card with our contact information for contact tracing. Everything was on paper and we were asked to share menus, which was fine by me. I also noticed the employees constantly spraying and wiping things down, which made me feel a bit more at ease. Speaking of the employees, they were all wearing masks, but it was kind of weird to be in the vicinity of so many other people who weren’t — including pedestrians on the sidewalk right beside us.
I will no longer take for granted: random chats with strangers.
Real talk: being on a patio just after a rainfall with the sun peeking out from behind the clouds was all kinds of glorious. But I really wish I could have enjoyed it more. We’re the type of people who love visiting patios all summer long — and on one hand, the experience felt overdue. On the other, there were 20 or so other people having lunch, which I didn’t anticipate for a Tuesday in the suburbs. (When did being close to other people start freaking me out so much?!). I wasn’t the only one who felt that way though, clearly. Some people like my husband were just dandy to waltz on in and plop down at a seat. Others looked around cautiously and tried to pick the table furthest away from others. Of course, considering everyone was six feet apart, anywhere would have technically been just fine.
I will no longer take for granted: all-you-can-eat buffets and menus the size of the table.
The place we chose to eat at had only opened in June, so I was happy that they were able to still open. That said it was a bar-tapas style resto, so the menu was pretty limited and a bit pricey. From my anecdotal research, I kind of think this is the case everywhere — even McDonald’s has eliminated things from their menu over the past few months. In the end we each ordered a drink and then decided to split some truffle fries, mussels, mushroom toasts and crispy chicken tacos. Hey, when you’re going out for the first time in half a year, you might as well do it up right, especially when it’s in the name of research. And yes, we finished it all, thank you very much.
I will no longer take for granted: everyone who works their tail off at these places.
While some of the people I spoke with ahead of our jaunt warned me that our experience might feel rushed or even distant, I didn’t really have that experience. Our server was really nice and chatty when we wanted to talk and ask questions, despite the fact that she was clearly super busy. She cleared plates as we finished them and came to check on us, which again some people had said isn’t the case right now as servers don’t usually clear the table until the visit is over.
One thing that did bother me was the fact that our server kept putting her mask below her nose. To be fair, it was hot, she was clearly working her butt off and I can only imagine how difficult it must be to wear a mask under those kinds of circumstances. Did it make me uncomfortable? Well, yes. What’s the point of the mask in that case? But I didn’t say anything and I made the decision not to name the restaurant in this piece because everyone’s human. We’re all getting used to this and the girl clearly needed some air.
At the end of the day, I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t always see whether everyone is adhering to the standards, so if you’re going to go to a restaurant, you just have to be prepared to take that risk. The same way you have to hope that no one spits in your food or washes their hands before touching your meal, I guess.
I will no longer take for granted: eating out, period.
Full disclosure: my husband and I did this lunch thing on the first day that our kids’ daycare opened back up. My anxiety was already riding high from dropping them off earlier that morning and so I may have been affected by certain things more than I typically would be. That said, by the time we finished eating and had paid the bill, I almost felt… human again. I had genuinely forgotten what it was like to order food and eat it without having to worry about any of the cooking or cleaning up.
To be able to just sit for an hour with my partner uninterrupted and without distractions to really catch up and even talk about some of the big feelings we’ve been having during this whole situation turned out to be a needed break for both of us. And even though I felt like I needed a nap after that generous meal (and yes, a glass of wine), it reminded me that we’ve all been going through a lot this year. So even though going to a restaurant isn’t exactly the same experience that it used to be, it’s still a way to add a bit of normalcy back into what has been an extremely abnormal year. Will I be going back next week? Probably not. But the next time things start to feel overwhelming, as far as I’m concerned, an hour on the patio may be exactly what the mental health doctor ordered.
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.
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.
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