Toronto's Food Charter is over 20 years old. Some say it's time for an update
Petition calls for new food charter to be created, led by marginalized communities
In 2001, Toronto council adopted a food charter: essentially, a set of commitments made to advance the right of everyone in the city to be free of hunger.
More than 20 years later, amid a pandemic that worsened food insecurity for low-wage workers and people of colour, some advocates say it's time for a change.
"The food charter doesn't really touch on the nuance of our food system, it doesn't touch on the nuance of race and it doesn't touch on many things affect our food system," said Hansel Igbavboa, Right to Food campaign coordinator with FoodShare, a non-profit that supports community-based food initiatives and public education around food insecurity.
The organization has launched a petition that calls on the city to develop a new food charter, led by people who are most affected by food insecurity, including Black, Indigenous and racialized people, people with disabilities and renters.
An updated food charter wouldn't just recognize people's right to food but also their right to grow their own food. And if they choose to do so, to know where their food is coming from, and to have options beyond food banks and charities, Igbavboa said.
"To feed ourselves and our family and our neighbours and everyone around us with dignity," he said.
Among those who've signed the petition is Neil Hetherington, CEO of the Daily Bread Food Bank.
He believes the current version of the food charter has served a purpose — but agrees it's time for a change.
"[It's] time to be able to say, 'Why is it that the BIPOC community in particular is more adversely affected by food insecurity than any other population?" said Hetherington.
What does the current food charter say?
Read Toronto's Food Charter in full here.
Some of the 13 commitments in the original food charter include:
- Advocating for income, employment, housing and transit policies that support people's access to food.
- Sponsoring nutrition programs.
- Supporting urban agriculture.
Since the charter was passed, Sarah Blackstock, the city's acting director of social policy analysis and research, said it's led to a wider food strategy along with a number of specific programs.
Among them is a student nutrition program sponsored by the city that serves more than 200,000 students a day. Another is Community Food Works, a program that connects newcomers with food safety training and connections to employment.
Still, Blackstock agrees there's more to be done.
"The issues that FoodShare is raising with this campaign are ones that the city agrees are the right issues to raise and the right questions to be asking," she said.
It's just a matter of whether the city revamps the food charter itself — or gets at some of these issues through its other plans — like the Toronto Black Food Sovereignty Plan, Blackstock said.
Blackstock said the matter will likely be discussed at council in late 2023.
For his part, Igbavboa wants to see change sooner than that, and hopes the petition will push council to bring forward a motion that will jump-start the process of amending the food charter.
For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.