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Paul Taylor’s mother immigrated to Toronto back in the early 1970s from rural St. Kitts in pursuit of a better life for her future children, who were yet to be born. Coming from the countryside of a small island, to a busy, foreign city came with a lot of culture shock. Along with adjusting to this new, urban life, Taylor’s mother was relegated to low-wage work, which Taylor says is often the case for racialized newcomers to Canada.
“My mother was forced to rely on three jobs at one point and worked incredibly hard. She was sleeping very little, probably not eating a huge amount until she became quite ill and wasn’t able to work anymore,” said Taylor.
For the bulk of his childhood, his family depended on government assistance and says it was barely enough to survive on. The moment he learned former Ontario Premier Mike Harris had cut welfare, when he was 13 years old, is when he also realized that what makes people poor, more often than not, is the political choices that are made.
This type of upbringing led Taylor to a 14 year career working for non-profit organizations. In 2017 he became the executive director of FoodShare Toronto – a non-profit dedicated to improving Torontonian’s access to nutritious food, where they center the conversation of food access around race and ‘food justice’.
FoodShare recently joined the University of Toronto in a research project looking at the correlations between Black Canadians and food security. They found Black Canadians, and specifically Black children, were 3.5 times more likely to lack food security. Taylor says all of the data they collected led him to believe the issue that’s causing food insecurity in Canada is anti-Black racism, and charities will not solve poverty.
“It’s not about donated food and redistributing other people’s leftovers. It’s about paying attention to the structural issues that are causing these race-based inequities. That will put more food into Black households than the amount of cranberry sauce that we donate to the foodbank.”
Taylor says FoodShare recognizes the generations of underinvestment in low-income communities that are disproportionately made up of Black, Indigenous and people of colour. That is why the organization has set up dozens of subsidized produce markets run by low-income folks in their communities. The markets are a place for people to come together and share resources and referrals. FoodShare has also invested in urban farming in the city and has turned public school fields and hydro corridors into places where people can grow food to either sell in their communities or increase people’s access to fresh produce.
“None of this work ends food insecurity, but what it does do is support people in being able to celebrate food and the culture that comes with food that so many of us may take for granted.”
Data collection apparatus through Statistics Canada along with taxation are tools only the government has access to. Taylor says these tools can be used to see the experiences of people who are put into vulnerable positions and their relationships with food access, poverty and housing; whereas taxation can be used to create a more equal country.
According to Statistics Canada data, before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were 4.4 million Canadians that were food insecure of which more than 1.2 million were children, and during the pandemic, Canadians living in households with children were more likely to be food insecure.
“When you scratch the surface, you often find that it’s not an issue of food, it’s an issue of housing costs, medication, transit and child care that is too high. We would love to see our government take a human rights approach and see how they use the levers available to them to address these issues.”
In the summer of 2020, FoodShare launched a new foodbox on their website called the Dismantling White Supremacy Box, which contains local produce grown from BIPOC owned farms.
“Black folks will continue to navigate the things they navigate after February so let’s work together to dismantle the oppressive systems. I think together we can accomplish so much and I really encourage everyone, from the various spaces they’re in and through the various spheres of influence they have, to do what they can to champion the possibility for change.”