With big events like Vancouver Pride and the London summer Olympics in full swing this week, the city is in a perfect position to reflect on where we're at, how far we've come, and where we're going. This week, MOVments looks at Vancouver's Olympic legacy, where the city is at with its fight against homophobia, and the ways that we're quantifying and collecting data on our neighbourhoods.
Olympic Dreams. Former director of city planning in Vancouver, Brent Toderian compares the common problems faced by Olympic host cities as London's games get under way. He says that London's pre-Olympics complaints may seem very familiar to Vancouverites, who also strove to strike a "balance between booster-ism and cynicism" in 2010. From Toderian's perspective, Vancouver's Olympic legacy was its adaptability in the face of obstacles and the unparalleled celebratory spirit it brought to Canada. For more on Vancouver athletes in this year's games, check out this Vancouver Courier article.
Hope and Pride. With Pride Week starting this Monday, many are asking how far Vancouver has really come in tackling homophobia and transphobia. Vancouver Park Board commissioner Trevor Loke said yesterday that while we've made progress, we still have a long way to go. Cuts in funding to HIV/AIDS programs and ongoing discrimination against trans-gendered individuals in particular, continue to be challenges for LGBTQ advocates. On a positive note, Former councillor Ellen Woodsworth pointed to the position of openly gay swimmer Mark Tewksbury as leader of the Canadian team at the London Olympics as a sign of real progress. And with Pride underway, the Vancouver Queer Film Festival is just around the corner. Check out the Georgia Straight's picks for the festival.
Shaping our Neighbourhoods. The Carnegie Mellon University is using social media check-in programs like Twitter and Foursquare to compile information about neighbourhoods in various cities, including Vancouver, for their new Livehoods project. When smartphone users check-in to nearby locations, the program produces coloured constellations on a map, revealing neighbourhoods shaped by collective preferences and distribution patterns. Interestingly, the movements on Livehoods reflect, but rarely match, the city's official neighbourhood boundaries.
Feeding the Masses. And finally in unrelated (but delicious) news: Vancouver had its third annual Amazing Grilled Cheese Giveaway on Saturday. Check out the Vancouver is Awesome post for some photos of the happy sandwich eaters on Union Street.
At the MOVeum:
August 16 - Volunteer Information Session
Community Food Resiliency:
Envisioning Our Food System in 2040
Guest Authors: Shelby Tay & Jay Penner
Over a hundred people gathered at the Museum of Vancouver on a Tuesday night in February for the follow up event "From Here to There (Part Two): Food, Energy and Transitioning to Community Resilience." At the launch event in December, over a hundred gathered in the same place to start a visioning process around what a just, sustainable, resilient food system might look like in 2040. Both events were collaboratively organized by the Museum of Vancouver, members of Village Vancouver (VV) and the Vancouver Food Policy Council, and was convened at MOV. The night began with a freshly cooked spread of soup, breads and roasted root vegetables and the room quieted to listen to Senaqwila Wyss, 17, of Skwxwu7mesh, Sto:Lo, Tsimsian, Hawaiian, and Swiss heritage (and food security queen in her own right!) who shared a beautiful Musqueam song, acknowledging the unceded First Nations’ land on which the gathering took place.
How did we get here?
Herb Barbolet began the panel presentations drawing from his 30 years of experience engaging in issues relating to the food system. Herb talked about his experience with projects relating to organic food production, cooperative restaurants, collective living, to founding Farm Folk City Folk and Community Supported Agriculture initiatives. It became clear to him early on that people were becoming more and more disconnected with their food and that education was needed – addressing issues of health, social justice, equity – and exploring alternatives to globalization and corrupt capitalism.
Herb explained that since the end of WWII we have seen our agricultural system fundamentally transformed -”industrialized and chemicalized”. Chemically contaminated food systems have been divided into two food systems based on wealth. Herb noted another fundamental change was that the definition of poverty shifted from a “...lack of land to a lack of income” with sustenance farming no longer seen as a viable option. “Wars over oil are also wars over food... the mainstream global food system is not as it appears to us here.”
“What kind of diet must we have? How can we sustain our populations? How do we rebuild the commons – networks of mutual aid and respect? What was food about before government and corporations?” Herb suggested we need better questions for more sophisticated answers and we need to re-frame what we do and how we think. “A loss of the commons means loss of freedom, personal accountability and responsibility and we must regain control over these parts of our lives.” Despite the challenges ahead, Herb emphasized that there are many inspiring examples of what our future could look like right here in the city, including the forthcoming New City Market food hub, and that each has a role to play in reshaping our food system. “Urban agriculture mobilizes community and breaks down fear, recreating a collective vision and engaging youth.”
Making food systems resilient
The next speaker of the night, Lena Soots, spoke to the group about creating resilient communities. Lena has been involved with the Transition Towns Network for several years and works with communities on addressing issues of energy uncertainty, climate change and community mobilization. As a trainer, Lena has introduced communities to the concept of an EDAP, or Energy Descent Action Plan, a model that was pioneered by Rob Hopkins and his students in Kinsale, Ireland and later in Totnes, England and several communities worldwide -- the focus of the night being unique in developing an Energy Descent Action Plan with a focus on food, or FED-AP. “The Transition approach has a fun and experimenting spirit in a serious context...what we’re doing now has never been done before.”
“The term resilience,” Lena explained, “is the ability of a system (person, community, ecosystem) to absorb shocks, stresses and changes while maintaining its essential function. Keeping in mind that the system may change while still maintaining its essential function”. She cautioned the room about the term and it’s over-use, noting “it often gets thrown around - like ‘sustainability’.”
Lena discussed three important characteristics of resilient systems; diversity, modularity and feedback, relating each back to food systems. Diversity is the spectrum of activities needed to maintain the central function and depth within each component. Modularity refers to the interconnectedness of a system but not connected to everything directly so that if one part of the system experiences issues, the system can still function and the entire system does not collapse. Feedback is about communicating the health of the system allowing for a fast enough response to crisis. “Decisions must be made a the lowest level possible - where people are most affected.”
Lena also emphasized the need to look to indicators for resilience - many of which have already become the focus of research; diversified leadership, community member involvement, optimism about the future, mutual assistance and cooperation, and the percentile of people with food production skills. These indicators can help us bridge our past and present with our future and how it relates to the bigger picture.
She finished by suggesting a shift in the language of our narratives, “Resilience isn’t a point that we want to get to – we are already resilient...Lets start telling the story of resilience in Vancouver: How Vancouver feeds itself.”
Following the opening presentations by Herb and Lena, Hannah Whitman shifted the discussion to the role of the rural and its connection to urban food systems. She provided an example of the International Peasant Movement, La Via Campesina, a project founded in 1993 involving 150 organizations from 70 countries, representing about 200 million farmers. Farmers must have a place in local food systems and Hannah argued for a more local focus on diet, local suppliers and institutionalizing relationships through local government.
“Food security means getting food from somewhere but it doesn’t address the autonomy of consumers and producers, where food is coming from, who benefits and under who’s interests and for what purpose?” She explained that what is needed is not food security, but food sovereignty, as well as “frameworks with diverse actions in diverse communities that facilitate choice.” She ended by providing some examples of food sovereignty campaigns and the various issues they aim to address, including; keeping agriculture out of the WTO; ending violence against women – with women producing more than half the food in rural regions (globally); and peasant rights such as land access and food producing rights.
It started with drop-in spaghetti nights
Ross Moster, founder of Village Vancouver Transition Society, spoke of a need for groups to work together. “[The] challenges are so enormous that we really need to work together," with VV approaching many different groups to rise to the task of community-based, local responses to the challenges of creating resilient food systems.
Before founding Village Vancouver, Ross and his partner decided to get to know their neighbours and invited them over for a big pot of spaghetti. They did it to have fun, and realized two days later that what had happened was that rather than everyone cooking in their own homes, they had collectively lowered their carbon footprint and without even thinking about it had become more resilient. Today, Village Vancouver engages in a variety of projects from seed libraries, to neighbourhood food networks to skill-sharing workshops across the city. It all starts with the suggestion, “Get to know your neighbours and see what happens.”
Moving into action
Brent Mansfield, co-chair of the Vancouver Food Policy Council, led a general discussion, getting people to pair up and talk about “what brought you here? What drives us toward a different future?” Brent sees that while 2040 targets are arbitrary, we need to focus on what has to be different and what do we want to be different -- that this process is not just about individual change but how can we re-envision our communities, families, cities and beyond. These solutions can only be achieved together.
Closing discussion returned the group to thinking about Vancouver communities with one panelist asking the group “What does our FED-AP look like? What does a resilient Vancouver look like?” Transition is not a spectator sport and FED-AP is on the verge of creating working groups and engaging as many as possible.
All of the presenters reinforced the idea that bringing about change to the food system is as much about visioning and storytelling as it is about planning. As the evening winded down, people made their way up to the front of the room to drop their names into paper bags, each marked with the topic of a working group. Participants were invited to join a group of interest for future discussions around various topics to start looking at the next steps from here, building the momentum to weave together relationships, vision, projects, stories of what will become the FED-AP, a collaborative community-based food resiliency plan.
To get involved in a working group, contact Ross Moster by writing an email to ross [at] villagevancouver.ca or through Hanna Cho at the Museum of Vancouver, hcho [at] museumofvancouver.ca
See more photos from the event here.
Jay Penner is a graduate student at the University of British Columbia specializing in adult education and a researcher with CityStudio. His interests are in the area of experiential and real-world learning, collaborative learning, environmental education and program planning.
Shelby Tay is a member of Village Vancouver and the Vancouver Food Policy Council and has worked with the Transition Towns movement for several years exploring how we create spaces that foster agency, connection, sense of place and stewardship.
Sne’waylh (teachings). There are only 10 remaining fluent speakers of the Squamish language. Orene Askew is trying to change that with her current affairs radio show on Co-op Radio. She begins each segment with a language lesson and invites important people from the First Nations community to speak.
Why rent when you can own? That’s what many small retailers are asking themselves. Rental rates for retail space in Vancouver are rising, forcing many businesses, even profitable ones to close or move to other areas. In response to this gentrification, a growing number of small businesses are purchasing their retail space.
Rest in peace. This week marked the passing of Vancouver historian Chuck Davis. Tributes are pouring in for a man who spent the better part of his life researching, writing and educating about Vancouver’s history.
Olympic Village. The developer of the Olympic Village has gone into receivership and the City of Vancouver has taken over the management and sale of the properties and some other assets.
Hungry. Food bank usage is rising across Canada and people are now visiting at the highest rate since 1997.
Mount Pleasant. The new Mount Pleasant community plan was released, outlining priorities that include affordable housing, encouraging, pedestrians, cyclists and transit, and improving public space for events and activities.
Photo credit: Cindy Goodman, for Vancouver Courier
Wednesday’s post about the DTES Kitchen Tables Series dialogues covered the poverty mentality and food donations in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, but the majority of food distributed in the DTES is purchased by non-profits from businesses, and some of the discussion focused on the issues they face in sourcing good food for their clients.
Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre shared a bit about how she goes about purchasing food for the meal programs in her organization.
When she first took on planning meals for the Centre, food orders were made through a large distributor, and due to the low volume of their orders and the supplier’s minimum purchasing rules, the supplier would only deliver once per month. She was concerned that she was unable to know where the food had come from and how it was grown and wanted to support local and organic growing if it was possible.
She began to look for alternative sources and ultimately settled on another large distributor. In the end, price won out as her main consideration.
Searching for alternatives
There are several organizations that are working in the DTES to provide better access to food. One that was mentioned was Quest Food Exchange, an organization that works with restaurants and grocery stores to divert food that would normally be considered waste toward people who are in need. Some of the food is donated to local charities while much of it is offered for sale to low-income people and non-profits at below cost.
Inglis mentioned that while she was interested in purchasing food from Quest, uncertainty about what goods would be available was a disadvantage. Their stock and prices fluctuate, making it difficult to budget and plan meals, and food may be at the end of it’s shelf life, making storage an issue.
For her organization right now, going with a large commercial distributor is easier and makes more sense.
Large distributors are not necessarily bad. Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUDcontributed some thoughts about distributors and sourcing ethical food. SPUD lists the location that the food it sells comes from so that consumers can make informed choices. Other distributors don’t do this. This is because many other larger distributors are so big and have so many sources that they may not know where their food came from and it is not yet part of their corporate culture to make note of it.
However, this is not to say that it is not possible. SPUD’s decision to list food where food came from was a direct result of consumer pressure. Large distributors have greater capacity and are more efficient at sourcing and purchasing. They would source more ethical products if they felt there was consumer demand.
Kitchen Tables Project
Rock’s vision for the Kitchen Tables Project is a resource that enables easier access to food for organizations in the DTES.
These organizations are small and often acting in isolation from each other. There is a need in the DTES for an organization that helps coordinate communication between different organizations about their needs. This organization could help facilitate collective purchasing directly from farms or from suppliers to drive down the price and support local producers at the same time.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will beMaking Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org
The DTES Kitchen Tables Series is a series of dialogues at MOV that put a lens on the issue of providing nutritious and affordable food to people in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.
The first dialogue centred around the ‘poverty mentality’, the assumption that because people are poor, they are less deserving of a minimum standard of living. This mentality provides a huge barrier to access for many people in need of nutritious food. Many Downtown Eastside residents have health and mental issues that are exacerbated by their lack of access to adequate nutrition, and while they may not have the money to pay for it, the need is still there.
On October 24 we were joined by Joyce Rock, Executive Director of the DTES Neighbourhood House, Ruth Inglis of the DTES Women’s Centre and Darren Stott, former director of purchasing for SPUD to talk about practical solutions to the food problem in the DTES. The dialogue, “Harvest… What harvest?” centred around the issue of distributing quality food in the DTES and the discussion uncovered several issues that face non-profits as they try to help those in need.
The trouble with donations
Downtown Eastside non-profits are often the recipients of food donations from well-wishing donors and businesses that often unintentionally put the recipient organizations in a difficult position.
While they are desperately in need of donations and resources, they are often the recipients of donations that they are not able to use. Often donations are of food that is of low nutritional value - high in sugar and fat - food that is not well suited to meeting the nutritional needs of their clients who may suffer from diabetes, HIV, malnutrition or other conditions.
At other times food donations may be difficult to process. A donation of vegetables or fruit may be at the end of it’s shelf life and an organization may not have the resources - the staff time, volunteers and storage space to make use of it. The organization must then take on the burden of dealing with it’s disposal.
So why accept these donations in the first place?
Once again, the poverty mentality rears it’s ugly head. What right do these organizations in need have to refuse this help that is offered to them? The panelists revealed that it is often difficult to refuse food donations regardless of the fact that they may not meet their organizations’ needs. Non-profits and charities do not want to burn their bridges or be seen to be ungrateful for the assistance that is offered to them.
These organizations recognize that donors mean well, but that better communication is needed so that organizations in the DTES are the recipients of donations that they can actually use. And, in addition to this, there is a need for organizations to be comfortable with refusing donations, to script a depersonalized and non-alienating ‘no’ so that non-profits have more say in what they ultimately distribute to their clients.
Come join us for the next Kitchen Tables talk this Sunday, November 21, where the next topic will be Making Food, Making Jobs: Downtown Eastside Residents working in their local food economy.
To learn more about the DTES Kitchen Tables Project, visit dteskitchentables.org
A decidedly food-heavy round-up of things we’ve been following this week:
Food and rehabilitation. GOOD reports that the Soul Food Project in San Francisco prisons is helping women reconnect with the community, both behind bars and once they’ve been released. The program teaches cooking skills and healthy eating with a focus on affordable food and wellness. The life and job skills they learn are an important way of minimizing recidivism and encouraging inmates to seek lives outside of crime.
Meanwhile, protest continues over the closure of Canada’s prison farms. The farm program provided inmates with job skills while providing meat and dairy products for the local economy.
Social inclusion through food. Vivian Pan at Beyond Robson has started a series about food security and community gardening in Vancouver, with a focus on community building and social inclusion. The first two posts are here and here. It has been an interesting read so far. We’re looking forward to reading more!
Edible landscaping. The Vancouver Sun has an interesting article about the edible garden at the Teahouse Restaurant in Stanley Park. The garden provides decoration for the dining area while it also provides fresh herbs and greens for the restaurant. The fact that the garden is actively used for cutting makes maintenance a bit of a challenge. Still, it increases the visibility of urban agriculture and provides a great example of how food crops can be beautiful as well as edible.
STIR-up in the West End. Terry Lavender presents a useful primer of the issues, stakeholders and conflict surrounding two proposed Short Term Incentives for Rental Housing projects in the West End. The development pits the City against concerned residents over the issue of the construction of new purpose-built rental housing in order to provide more options for affordable housing in one of the most diverse and dense neighbourhoods in the city.
Bloedel Conservatory. Earlier this week the City of Vancouver announced that the Bloedel Conservatory will be saved, and jointly operated by the City, VanDusen Botanical Garden Association and Friends of the Bloedel. The Conservatory ran into financial difficulty due to city budget cuts, and was facing closure. It’s great to see that this local institution will be around for some time to come.
Image credit: Lars Hagberg/Canadian Press