How have communities mobilized to bring emergency food relief to diverse neighborhoods in the city suburbs? What programmes have they developed to make nutritious and culturally appropriate food available to local residents in need? How has the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted systemic barriers to food access and equity? Join us for an interactive roundtable from Toronto to learn about food insecurity and emergency food distribution, from food banks, buses and baskets to online cooking demos and more.

Melanie Blackman is Community Development Coordinator at the University of Toronto Scarborough. UTSC jointly led C.A.R.E.S., Collective Action and Response for Everyone in Scarborough, to provide emergency food and hygiene kits to partner organizations in local high priority neighbourhoods.

Zaid Mirza is a National Manager of the National Zakat Foundation (NZF), which tackles local poverty in Canada by providing emergency and short-term relief to vulnerable people. In addition to Halal food assistance programs, NZF provides housing support and debt management assistance. The Mississauga-based Foundation is a member of the Canadian Muslim Response Network and through this initiative has partnered with dozens of organizations to widely distribute essential food and hygiene kits.

Suman Roy is Founder of Feed Scarborough. The volunteer-based Scarborough Food Security Initiative leads various initiatives to distribute food to more than 3,000 neighbours every week. It operates multiple food banks and an emergency food bus, and will soon open a local hospitality and culinary training centre.

Vijay Saravanamuthu is Health Promoter, Community Capacity & Stakeholder Engagement, at TAIBU Community Health Centre, a Scarborough-based community organization that broadly supports Black communities across Toronto. In its pandemic food response, TAIBU has developed online nutritional education and partnered with local organizations to distribute emergency food baskets, ensuring access to staples and fresh produce that are central to diverse African and South Asian cuisines.

Organized by Culinaria Research Centre Postdoctoral Fellows Jaclyn Rohel and Bryan Dale; and Jayeeta (Jo) Sharma, Associate Professor of History and Food Studies at the University of Toronto Scarborough.

Supported by the Culinaria Research Centre and Community Partnerships & Engagement, University of Toronto Scarborough.

Webinar Summary

In this roundtable, various community stakeholders from Toronto and the Greater Toronto Area discussed the efforts undertaken by their respective organizations to curtail food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. All of the panelists found that their approaches to emergency food distribution were defined by collaboration, as an influx of need forced their organizations to work together to meet the increased demand for food on a local and national scale. They all relied upon charity to support their emergency food programming; however, consensus held that Canadian communities must move away from the charity model with regard to food access. They argued that confronting systemic barriers to food security and equity in Toronto will require shifts in perspective, so that food may be treated as a basic human right, rather than a privilege or charitable act. The panelists asserted that this shift in perspective would also support their respective efforts towards advancing food sovereignty within their communities, thus enabling community members to exercise autonomy and choice within their diets. Ultimately, this conversation is a testament to the importance of collaborative partnerships in local responses to food insecurity, and serves as an incredible display of community solidarity and resilience in times of crisis.

For detailed notes on this webinar, click here.