Toronto adopts plan to create Black food sovereignty, first of its kind in North America
Oct. 4, 2021
Toronto city council has just approved a five-year plan to deal with food insecurity in the Black community in a culturally sensitive way.
The plan, approved Friday, is the first of its sort in North America and lays out a multi-million dollar commitment to advance food sovereignty in Black communities over the next five years.
Melana Roberts, a policy development officer with the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism unit (CABR) who worked on the plan, said the team did not come across anything similar globally -- a Black-led food plan funded municipally.
“We can’t just have a charitable approach to this,” Roberts tells the Star. “We need a human-rights-based approach that's based in not only addressing the challenges Black communities face, but positioning them as leaders.”
The plan to create this support system was a collaboration between existing community groups.
Anan Lololi, co-founder of Afri-Can FoodBasket and food justice activist, is the person who first started suggesting that sovereignty is a better angle to tackle the issue from.
“Food sovereignty is the right for people to (have) healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecological and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems,” Lololi said.
The group will use the funds to develop new city-supported, Black-led food insecurity initiatives, support existing Black-led and Black-serving initiatives like Afri-Can FoodBasket and overhaul systems the city already runs to help create Black food sovereignty.
This would mean culturally-rooted nutrition programs, access to growing space, Black food markets, and infrastructure like community kitchens and sustainable funding.
Speaking from experience running Afri-Can FoodBasket since the ‘90s, access to consistent funding has been a struggle for Lololi.
“What we want is intentionality,” he said.
Lololi has been working in food justice for 25 years and he’s noticed it’s a predominately white-led and white-focused space. But with Black and Indigenous families more likely to face food insecurity, Lololi would like to see more targeted programs.
Funding a general food program won’t necessarily guarantee dedicated funding will be able to reach the most food insecure.
A 2020 report by PROOF found that Black and Indigenous families have the highest rate of food insecurity compared to other races -- just over 28 per cent each.
That has a ripple effect and leads to negative health outcomes. Food is one example of how social determinants of health are affected by anti-Black racism, based on a Canada public health report. We saw early on in the COVID-19 pandemic how the illness disproportionately affected Black and other racialized communities.
Black food security has been a topic of discussion at city hall since 2015. It was put forward through a city Board of Health report and has seen more focus through the city’s CABR unit.
They are currently accepting applicants to take part in an advisory circle that will help steer the initiative as it rolls out.