We live in a very divided city. One in three kids live in poverty. 145,000 kids live in poverty. There are 118,000 Millionaires in Toronto. That’s one example of how we live in two worlds.
When you live in two worlds, you don’t know one another’s stories, which is a big problem to me. Rexdale and Rosedale don’t know each other; Lawrence Hights and Lawrence Park don’t know each other. And that’s a big problem. Because when we’re divorced from each other, we start to tell each other’s stories in the wrong way. Far too often in my 20-plus years working in low income neighbourhoods, I’ve heard that people who are poor are poor budgeters, or it’s a lifestyle choice, or it’s a character flaw that puts them in poverty, and I’ll tell you right now that that is outrageous conversation. People are poor because of an addiction, mental health, minimum wage that doesn’t help them cover their bills, inadequate social assistance rates… A kid who has to drop out of school to work to put food on the table and a roof over their head. Those are the reason why people are poor.
Our work is about revillaging cities. Building public spaces where people can come together and build a sense of hope and self-worth, which are two absolute key drivers to individual and community change, and we happen to do that through food. The glory of food: commensality, breaking bread, conversation, laughter, and connection.
There are three principles that underline our work.
The first is that food is a basic human right. Everyone deserves to access good, healthy food.
The second is that no one should feel ashamed or embarrassed when they have to ask for help for food. No one should have to walk into a place and keep their eyes on the floor, and feel after they’ve left that place smaller than before they went in.
The third is that food is powerful. It’s a transformative force in our life. It’s about skills, health, pleasure, joy, and sustainability.
At the CFCC, we are building food centres in low income neighbourhoods around the idea that food is powerful. There are 8 centres like The Stop that are in varying stages of development; we introducing organizations that are operating differently than the food banks of the last 30 years: instead of handing out crappy food to marginalized people, we are turning them into places of dignity and respect, and laughter… The third thing we do is leadership around public policy. There’s plenty of food in this country. We throw out 40% of the food we produce. People are hungry because they’re poor. In order to change that dynamic we have to have to build more affordable housing, increase minimal wages, increase social assistance rates, affordable childcare… those are the things we need to talk about. We need to build centres that fuse dignified emergency service, cooking, growing, and advocating together to talk about these larger structural issues. And we can’t do that without great friends.
Tonight’s an expression of people’s commitment, and love for the work we’re doing. I want to say thank you… become a donor. If you can support us, we’ll make good things happen across this country to change the conversation of how we do food in all our neighbourhoods. Thanks very much.
– Nick Saul, President & CEO of the Community Food Centres Canada and co-author of The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement at the Chefs for Change Dinner (February 20, 2015). Instead of stigmatizing those with food insecurities, Saul, an advocate of safe, healthy food for all, encourages greater discussion (thus promoting education), the development of a national nutritional program, and changes to current policies dealing with the situation.
Published: April 2013
For Toronto Life.com: Terroir 2013 recap
Published: Sept 2009
For TorontoLife.com: Where (the other) Chris Brown stops to make a difference
Gallery: An afternoon at The Stop Community Food Centre (August 2009)
Toronto Stars’s Laurie Monsebraaten reports: Rethinking the food bank: It’s no longer just about handing out food to the hungry
Nancy J. White’s profile of Nick Saul in Toronto Star: Nick Saul: The man who built the foodie bank
Jason McBride profiles Nick Saul for UofT Magazine: Food for Thought
The Guardian’s Patrick Butler interviews Nick Saul: Food banks are ‘a slow death of the soul’
When I first heard of Nick Saul and The Stop in Toronto, he was the Executive Director of the community food center. That was back in 2009. I was following up with talented chef Chris Brown, who had at the time left one of the city’s top kitchens to his new post as The Stop’s Food Enterprise Coordinator. A move that I had initially found curious, but quickly realized the heart and soul of what it means to try to create change. (I encourage you to check out the piece for more.) In fact, Brown and a group of similarly minded young chefs in the city had formed a network called the Crosstown Kitchens, who had collectively helped to raise funds for The Stop through various projects – all delicious, all incredibly well received. More recently, it was a series of Chefs for Change dinners, which involved talents from home and across Canada, who, supported by volunteer efforts of a committed group of George Brown students, and sponsors, helped raise funds and awareness for the CFCC. This was all made possible because of a great idea brainstormed by Brown and Losel Tethong, co-owner of Propeller Coffee Co., who not only hosted the incredible dinners at his space, but also collectively worked four months in putting on the event. But I digress.
Until that meeting, I wasn’t aware of the incredibly good things that were happening through The Stop. Once I learned of the anti-hunger/anti-poverty programs – including community gardens, educational programs, cooking classes and a food bank that had been established to help ease access to healthy foods, it was easy to see why so many were drawn to contribute to its positive role in the community. And why others – like Mark Bittman – speak so wonderfully about its works. (You can read more in Bittman’s blog post here.) I also quickly came to understand why it was difficult to get a volunteer position at The Stop: not only because of criteria (including ability to commit, work well with other and have empathy) but also because it was so much fun – the people you get to work with and interact with are all so wonderful.
Then there was Saul’s talk at Terroir 2013, which left the whole room buzzing. He connected food with community and social justice: where it wasn’t right that those who were economically poor had unhealthy diets; where asking for assistance seemed undignified. Here, food – which is a common language for all – can be used to change the conversation, and to build a community and health. He challenged the room (who usually cater to the top percent) to consider democratizing good food. Make it accessible to all. Not some two-tiered system, which he eloquently stated:
It left everyone inspired and challenged.
I have such admiration for how these food fighters were leading by doing, and not just by what they say. They have, and continue to, create an environment where good food is not reserved for the privileged. Not just in Toronto, but in 15 different affiliated centers across the country by 2017. It was a good reminder that neither the notion that beggars can’t be choosers nor the concept of voting with your dollars is enough to help those that are food insecure deal with hunger.
While this post features Saul as its header, it’s also an acknowledgement of the collective efforts of Brown, CFCC staff, all the active participants who have contributed and believed so much in the good of the works of this organization that is being highlighted. It’s encouraging to note that it’s possible to make a difference by simply changing how we approach things. I encourage you to head up to the article section and read the excellent articles written by the journalists of The Star, UofT Magazine and The Guardian. The later had this powerful quote from Saul: “The only person who is not benefiting is the person who this was set up to help. Most people who have to visit food banks say it is a slow, painful death of the soul.”
When I grow up, I want to be a difference maker just like these incredible people.