It’s a motivating and invigorating process to envision what the future of food would like in our city. We’re nearing the end of 2011, and with the closing of this year comes the natural tendency for reflection, visioning, and intention-setting. This past week, The Food Constellation (a group of food activists) at The Centre for Social Innovation held a meeting about Toronto’s future of food. Twenty or so people sat around a big table discussing, imagining, critiquing and encouraging each other’s visions of a thriving local food system.
What does the future of food look like in our city? Here’s what was shared around the table:
Toronto would have many large kitchen incubators for small food businesses. This is a different way of imagining typical kitchen spaces we see. Kitchen incubators are a warehouse-type infrastructure with a number of certified and industrial kitchens set up in one large space. This allows greater accessibility and opportunity for small-scale food production. There are so few kitchens available to rent in Toronto, and the spaces that are available are expensive and unaffordable for start-up small food businesses. The Food Chain is a community of food activists who are starting to address this issue. Together, they are building a 4000 square foot production space with many kitchens, open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Attached to this large incubator is a cafe where food producers can showcase and sell their product. This helps build and support the middle part of the food processing system, and small food producers are able to contribute in a real and meaningful way. Earth & City is a small food producer, so we understand fully the need for more affordable and accessible kitchen spaces in the city.
We would change the restaurant landscape of the city, reforming and revolutionizing everything from sourcing to waste-elimination. Instead of restaurants ordering all of their food from a Sysco catalogue, they would have the resources and tools in place to order and source food from local and sustainable local growers and suppliers. Menu consistency is an important value of restaurant establishments, ensuring customers can rely, predict and expect what will be served everytime they order. This approach relies heavily on industrial and heavily-imported sourcing practices. Instead, we need to deeply transform the way we expect food to always be consistent, reliable, and available. Pineapples would rarely be available, and if so, are fairly and horizontally-traded. Strawberries would only be available in June and July, and would be savoured as a luxury during those few summer months. Restaurant menus would adapt accordingly to the growing season, and customers would learn to expect less choice, and be content with what is regionally available. Less green in the winter, more berries in the summer. What is being cooked and offered at our city’s restaurants must reflect our Ontario growing season.
We already eat the world in this city, so how about incorporating more culturally-appropriate food into our local food and agriculture system. What about making kimchi, a traditional Korean condiment, with locally grown cabbage from Sosnicki Farms, instead of imported cabbage from Asia? Or what about cooking with daikon, a white Japanese radish that is grown in Ontario during the harvest months? There is an incredible amount of food knowledge and expertise from newcomers and immigrants to this city. We need to collect and share this knowledge, and find sustainable ways to integrate ethnic cuisine into our city’s food equation. How about building a cultural and ethnic recipe archive? Or a sourcing guide for newcomers to buy culturally-distinct foods from local growers instead of high-eco footprint importers? How about education, awareness and incentive for farmers to learn how to grow more ethno-cultural crops?
Toronto would have a legislative context that is more supportive of food and agricultural practices. Unnecessary regulatory burdens would be omitted out of the equation. We would see an increase of good food champions at city hall, and policy-makers more connected to the grassroots and community-level issues that affect small food producers and growers. What about a cottage food clause? It’s an amended certification for home kitchen production. Or what about a local food procurement policy? It’s a preferential policy for businesses or perhaps individuals to buy local and sustainable food. Or how about a policy that supports micro-economics and micro-farming? It’s a smaller-scale infrastructure that allows backyard urban growers to participate in the local food economy by selling their produce to local shops and restaurants.
The future of food in Toronto would integrate a socio-economic perspective into all decisions based on food. We want to see a city where people don’t live in food deserts, where a 7-Eleven is the only local source for food. And believe it, food deserts do exist in our city. With an increase in transit fare, and cuts to TTC routes, low income people living in isolated areas don’t have the luxury to travel to buy good food on a regular basis. Also, Christmas Food Drives wouldn’t consist of donations of old canned goods with low nutritional value that have oftentimes expired in our own cupboards. This food is being given to the most vulnerable and nutritionally-deprived populations! Good, healthy, and nutritious food would be more affordable, more accessible. The city needs to take a holistic and highly critical perspective on food systems, incorporating a framework which acknowledges power, status, privilege, race, income level, ethnicity, religious and faith practice, sexual orientation, gender identity, political ideology, age and disability.
We see beautiful fresh food popping everywhere in this city, and every person having the opportunity to have some sort of tactile experience of food, on a daily basis. We see food hubs sprouting all over Toronto, places where seeds are stored, people are canning and preserving, workshops are being held, libraries of books and resources are available, meals are shared, food is being grown. Food hubs by their very nature embody a multidisciplinary approach. They allow farmers, producers, distributors and consumers to connect over a shared interest: food! We see seeders, feeders and eaters all around the dinner table together, in conversation, in community.
Toronto’s future of food has potential to grow into the most thriving, inclusive, holistic and critical local food economy. We are ever-inspired to contribute in our own little way. So on we go and into the new year, doing good work, and staying focused, motivated, connected and inspired to keep the vision of our city’s food system alive and well.