Toronto may have hip restaurants aplenty, but Food by Ward shows that when it comes to food security, some neighbourhoods are falling behind.
Toronto is used to getting accolades for its hip and culturally diverse food scene. After all, Conde Naste Traveler magazine recently dubbed Toronto one of the top 15 food destinations in the world, praising its “magnetic, multicultural vibe.”
That sounds lovely, but for most people in Toronto, food is a necessity–not a luxury item–and depending on where you live, Toronto’s food scene may not be accessible or affordable.
That’s where the Food by Ward map comes in.
To shed light on the reality of food access in the city, Toronto Food Policy Council lead the development of Food by Ward, a mapping tool that shows food assets available in each neighbourhood. The maps highlight services—like farmers’ markets, healthy food retailers, student nutrition programs, food assistance programs (such as food banks), and community gardens—in each ward and show how they stack up to the average across the city.
Somewhat predictably, wards in the city’s inner suburbs tend to have fewer food resources available than those in the downtown core. In Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre, for example, there are no farmers’ markets, food co-ops, food banks, food festivals, or drop-in meal programs. There’s only one community kitchen, two community gardens, and 13 healthy food retailers.
By contrast, in downtown’s Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale, there are four farmers’ markets, three food agencies, 15 food assistance programs, six food festivals, seven community kitchens, 22 community gardens, and 100 healthy food retailers.
“The story of the City of Toronto remains the same in a number of different contexts,” says Rachel Gray, executive director of The Stop and chair of the Toronto Food Policy Council. “When we look at the services, generally speaking we see that the downtown core is well served and that the outer neighbourhoods are not.” Gray adds that by now we shouldn’t be surprised to see that food services—like transit and health services—are lacking in the inner suburbs. “This is what we know about poverty in the city, and we certainly know food [access] is inequitable.”
A new study [PDF] lead by the University of Toronto shows that 12.6 per cent of Torontonians experienced food insecurity in 2014. It also shows that the number of people going hungry in this city hasn’t improved since 2008—in some neighbourhoods, the problem has got a lot worse.
According to a 2015 report from the Daily Bread Food Bank [PDF], inner suburb food bank use has soared 45 per cent in the last eight years, while downtown, food banks have seen a 16 per cent drop in use. At the same time, access to services has not shifted according to need.
The goal with Food by Ward is to highlight those inequities and pinpoint exactly what services each community needs. Gray sees the tool as a way to open up dialogue between councillors, community members, and organizations in the food sector around how to improve food access in wards that may be trailing. “For councillors in more affluent neighbourhoods, it won’t be as much of a concern,” says Gray, “but for others, it will be a stark realization around how many assets other communities are enjoying and they are not.”
Along with addressing gaps in food security, Gray says Food by Ward has the power to spark broad and positive changes in other sectors across the city. “Food is something that crosses so many policy files. When we talk about the kind of food leadership we can have in the city, we’re talking about an impact on the environment,” she says. “If we’re able to convert green spaces, like our hydro corridors and parks, that can create community agency as people claim lands that are not being used. And if we can figure out ways to sell that food, that helps to drive the local economy. To say nothing of the fact that we can actually include some basic knowledge around food security,” she continues. “If we want people to be able to feed themselves adequately and take care of themselves and their families, we need to look at our poverty reduction strategy and look at our social policies around income as well.”
On May 3, Toronto Food Policy Council will host the official launch of Food by Ward at City Hall. There, Gray and the team of community leaders behind the new service will consult with Mayor Tory and local councillors on ways to make food more accessible in every neighbourhood. “The land is there, and there are community organizers ready to spearhead initiatives,” says Gray, “we just need to start the conversation about how do we identify what those other opportunities are together, and we need to figure out how to leverage support.”