The Right to Food

Interview with Barbara Emanuel, Manager of Toronto Food Strategy

Experts' corner - 15.10.2019

Barbara Emanuel, Manager of Toronto Food Strategy, explains how the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact helps to realize the right to food, focusing on its implementation in that Canadian city.

In what ways is the right to food embedded in the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact?

Barbara Emanuel: The Milan Pact gives us an overarching system to provide a sustainable food system for everyone. In that sense, for us in Toronto we apply what we call an equity lens to everything we do. Through this, some people are more impacted than others by climate change, food insecurity or even by where they live in the city.

The right to food is integrated in a systematic approach such as the one represented by the Milan Pact.  We need to recognize that right for every population, no matter where you live in the city or anywhere in the world.

In our language in Toronto, we have found that we can make a little more progress politically if we talk about food as a public good rather than the right to food -for some reason, people get a bit frightened of that right to food language.

The way we work is top-down and bottom- up at the same time, which  means that the top-down is always working for systemic change and food system transformation. But at the same time, bottom-up means real engagement at the grassroots level, and always paying attention to equity as the main element of what we have to address here.

Talking about zero hunger requires a systemic approach, rather than a charitable approach -to give food to poor people. We are very much supporting the right to food approach and sometimes, we do it very explicitly in our work and sometimes we can get further making it no so explicitly, but just a guiding principle.

How is the Milan Urban Food Policy Pact being implemented in Toronto?

BE: In our food system transformation, we try to integrate with all the work happening in the city to promote a healthy sustainable food system.

But sometimes it is not explicitly food-related. For example, we are working very hard to put a food and equity lens into our resilience strategy, also at grassroots levels. For me, community food resilience is very much about the right to food: the ability to stand shocks and stresses, but to address the ongoing issues of chronic food insecurity and also the extra vulnerabilities that occur when you are low income or the most vulnerable populations.

What are some of the main challenges in cities’ food systems?

BE: I think it is a challenge and a huge opportunity to recognize the importance of food system transformation in climate action. Cities are beginning to really understand this role and the importance of that.

It is a massive challenge because cities are impacted by climate change and poverty. But it is also an opportunity because there is more and more evidence out there that food plays a really important in this action.

For us at the city of Toronto, it is being a struggle, and we are just at the beginning to explain to the decision makers that if we are going to take climate action seriously, food is got to be a part of. It is going to be actually the first response, and we will look at air quality, and energy and transportation.

It needs a big education process. But it is not just education, it is engagement in a very real systemic way so that this understanding gets embedded in the work that all these departments do. We are just at the beginning of that.

About Barbara Emanuel

Barbara Emanuel is the Manager of the Toronto Food Strategy. Led by Toronto Public Health, the intent is to build food connections across and within city divisions and between city government and community in order to create a healthy and sustainable food system for all. The food strategy builds on the strong foundation of the Toronto Food Policy Council which has operated for more than 27 years.

Prior to her work on the food strategy, Barbara was the Strategic Policy Advisor to the Medical Officer of Health for Toronto where she worked on a range of local and global public health and environmental issues including food and nutrition. Barbara has worked for the City of Toronto for over 25 years in a variety of policy and strategic issues roles. 

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