One of the principles of the Gordon House Food Philosophy is to recognise that:
“all members of our community should have a Right to Food based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, while also acknowledging that we as a community enjoy various levels of access to food.”
We know that the experience of food and the nourishment that food provides is unequal across different households.
Responses to a food survey that we conducted earlier this year in the West End showed that over 83% of respondents have experienced some kind of difficulty or obstruction while putting food on the table. This is a distressing and concerning statistic. As a community it is important for us to discuss how we can create structures to tackle this issue and work on ensuring that everyone in our community experiences food equitably. But how do we get there?
This blog post will outline the complexities that define our food. What does the Right to Food mean? Where does the inequity lie, and how do we get to a space of justice?
Right to Food
Article 11 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) states that it is the
“right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for themselves and their family, including adequate food, clothing, and housing…”
Adequate food is a critical component of a basic standard of living — it is a right that doesn’t just mean being free from hunger or have a minimum nutritional intake. Adequate food is based on the pre-condition of food security. And as a party to this international covenant, Canada is legally obligated to respect, protect and fulfill the right to adequate food by implementing measures for its residents to be food secure. But what does food security look like?
Food security was first defined in 1974 at the World Food Summit, then redefined in 1986, in 1996, and then in 2001 it was stated that –
“food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
In 2020, a panel of experts appointed by the Committee on World Food Security put forth 6 dimensions for food security: Availability, Access, Utilisation, Stability, Agency, and Sustainability. These dimensions help assess and frame food policy to facilitate the realisation of the right to food and provide a rather holistic view of what it means to be food secure.
Unfortunately, despite the evolution of this definition for food security the number of hungry people across the world has steadily risen to over 1 billion. It is clear that these revisions are very slow to translate into policy changes and solutions. In Canada, 11.2% of households reported food insecurity in 2020. Our governments, leaders and policymakers have failed to act and ensure the right to food for its citizens. Food insecurity in Canada is often framed as a lack of a person’s quantity and quality of food rather than a system-wide policy failure to create the conditions for food security. For example, food insecurity is defined by Health Canada as
“the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so.”
Subsequently, Canada has largely focused on food charity as the primary solution to food security, shifting the responsibility from the government to food banks and other charitable organizations. However, food charity has proven to be a band-aid solution that does not decrease overall rates of food insecurity.
Who is most affected?
Food insecurity in Canada is closely related to social and economic disadvantage —households living on low incomes and limited assets, households living on government social supports, lone-parent families, people with less formal education, and people belonging to Indigenous and Black communities are disproportionately impacted. Additionally, agricultural policy in Canada was designed to support input-intensive production, increase exports, and rely on imports, leading to farming practices that are unsustainable and exploitative for people and the planet. The current approach seems to have superficially addressed the issues rather than investigating and overcoming systemic barriers needed for transformative change. The result is economic, social, and environmental degradation at the brink of collapse. But it doesn’t have to be this way, and we can do something about it.
This is where food justice comes in. Food justice looks at food security through a social justice lens. A food justice approach addresses the unfair distribution of resources and the uneven sharing of power that can be found throughout our food systems from farm to table. Food justice believes that true food security is impossible without social justice; not only does it offer a starting point to analyse food insecurity, but it also offers solutions to a path for food security. In a paper titled “What does it mean to do food justice?” the authors note four key points for intervention:
1. Trauma and Inequity: To recognize structural relations of power as necessary to confront race, class, and gender privilege and to acknowledge historical, collective traumas that were fueled by the power of global hierarchies. There is a need to advocate for policy that repairs the past injustices and trauma that echo today.
2. Exchange: To create new exchange mechanisms that promote communal reliance through cooperation, trust, and shared economies
3. Land: To create equitable ways to access, manage, and control land and other resources through agro-ecological means that go beyond human relational context. To build on diverse knowledge systems to grow food, make a change, and sustain societies
4. Labour: To compensate fairly and protect and support the value of all labour
Food justice aims to build equitable and sustainable food systems by shifting the focus back onto policy changes that address the root causes of food insecurity and poverty, such as housing & childcare costs, wage stagnation, lack of transportation, challenges to healthcare access and more, all of which are prominent issues in the West End. It offers us a framework from which we can develop solutions that actually work to solve the problem and keep all of us fed, healthy, and happy.
If you would like to learn more, please explore the resources below:
Food Secure Canada – Community Network for Food Justice
Food Justice : Building Community – Academic Partnerships – Union of Concerned Scientists
Food Security, Food Justice, Or Food Poverty? – Institute for Food & Development Policy
Fact Sheet: Race and Food Insecurity – A research collaboration between PROOF food insecurity policy research & FoodShare
Cadieux, K. V. & Slocum, R., (2015) “What does it mean to do food justice?”, Journal of Political Ecology 22(1), p.1-26. doi: https://doi.org/10.2458/v22i1.21076
Centre for Income and Socioeconomic Well-being Statistics, Statistics Canada
High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security (2020). Food security and nutrition: building a global narrative towards 2030
Statistics Canada (2022). Canada’s Official Poverty Dashboard of Indicators: Trends, March 2022
Maxwell, S. (1994) Food Security: A Post-modern Perspective. IDS Working Paper, 9. Brighton: IDS.
Food And Agriculture Organization of The United Nations Rome, 2003. Trade Reforms And Food Security: Conceptualizing The Linkages
Food And Agriculture Organization of The United Nations Rome, 2014. Right to Food Handbook 1: The right to food within the international framework of human rights and country constitutions
Clapp, Jennifer & Moseley, William & Burlingame, Barbara & Termine, Paola. (2021). The case for a six-dimensional food security framework. Food Policy. 102164. 10.1016/j.foodpol.2021.102164.
Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/
Holt-Giménez, E. (2011). Food Security, Food Justice, or Food Sovereignty? Crises, Food Movements, and Regime Change. In A. H. Alkon & J. Agyeman (Eds.), Cultivating Food Justice: Race, Class, and Sustainability (pp. 309–330). The MIT Press. http://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt5vjpc1.18
Food Secure Canada, 2001. Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada. https://foodsecurecanada.org/sites/foodsecurecanada.org/files/FSC-resetting2012-8half11-lowres-EN.pdf