activist notes

Local Food, University of Toronto by activistnotes
February 24, 2008, 11:10 pm
Filed under: Local Food | Tags: , , ,

By Ian Hussey

Local food. Hot topic nowadays. Most of my activism has been around international fair trade and labour issues. In the last year though, I’ve been thinking more about and becoming more active in local food initiatives. Partly on my own volition and partly because opportunities have presented themselves. The latest one is why I’m writing this post at this time.

I was asked to participate in a discussion on the student fair trade movement in Canada for a senior seminar of the Equity Studies program of the University of Toronto this Thursday. So what does that have to do with local food? The facilitators of the course are Lori Stahlbrand of Local Food Plus and Wayne Roberts of the Toronto Food Policy Council.

Ya think that’s cool? Here is how the seminar works. Lori and Wayne have faciliatated this course for six or seven years now. It’s called a Research Practicum on Food Security. Each year eight senior students get to participate. The students pick the issue relating to food security they want to focus on, they do research on the topic, come up with a list of readings and a list of ‘key informants’, read the stuff, talk to the ‘informants’, and write a paper, I think together, and submit it to the administration of the university. Ya see, kids, school, like learning, can be fun and applicable to ‘the real world.’ Sometimes the people that run schools forget that.

[Sidenote: Derrick Jensen has written an amazing book on popular education, writing, and revolution. And I’m not talking crusty ‘Marxist’ revolution. I’m talking a revolution in the way we educate, run schools, and so on. The book is called Walking on Water: Reading, Writing and Revolution. Pick it up. You won’t regret it. I read it in two days and couldn’t put it down. Then I went and bought another book of his, The Culture of Make Believe. Still working on that one in my spare time. Gimme a break, it’s like 600 pages. And now I’m participating in this social forum in my spare time. Life. It doesn’t stop. Jensen was just in Toronto and I had to miss the event because I was at the Canadian Student Fair Trade Network’s Ethical Purchasing Policies Activist School. I’m shaking my fist at you CSFTN].

So anyway, one year the students chose to do an audit of how accessible U of T’s food venues are for people living with disabilities, another year they did an audit of the ethnic diversity of the food offered on campus, and another year they did an audit of the amount of food sold on campus that’s grown locally. That last one lead to the university adopting a local food policy.

This year the students decided to concentrate on fair trade, as in the traditional, international sense of the term ‘fair trade.’ Pretty cool. They are reading the CSFTN’s Ethical Purchasing Policy Action Guide for this Thursday’s seminar. The guide was written by students with experience in advocating the adoption of an Ethical Purchasing Policy at their schools. I edited it. It’s being revised right now. Who knew university students could write university curriculum and policy? Peer learning. It works.

So why am I writing this post right now? I’m doing research. And I’m done for the night. Peace. 


3 Comments so far
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This is very interesting, both the pedagogical aspect and the food on campus.
I was taken by the remark made by the head of UVIC purchasing services at the fair trade conference at UVIC last summer, when he said his main barrier to offering local food was NAFTA–as public bodies, universities must tender their contracts for food distributors every few years, and they can’t restrict it to “local farmers” because of Free Trade!

Comment by Stacy Chappel

Ian – Any word on if OPIRG’s Ethical Purchasing Policies Activist Action Kit will be edited and put on here? Seems like it could tie into all of this fairly well.

Comment by Steve Disher - Trent U

Hey Steve,
I’ve had a chance to read the work you and Hayley did. I haven’t read the OPIRG kit, I think that is a different thing. The case studies you and Hayley did are great. In my mind, they are the strength of the research you two did. Very valuable examples and info to have. You two have made a valuable contribution, and deserve credit.

I’ve already shared your case study research with Local Food Plus and that class I did a popular education with at U of T. The students will likely use the examples in their case to the university admin. Strong evidence that Ethical Purchasing Policies aren’t even a new thing anymore, and don’t necessarily hurt the school’s pocket book either.

As we previously discussed, I think the strategy piece student activists affiliated with the Canadian Student Fair Trade Network wrote up in the CSFTN’s action guide would go well in a revised form with the work you and Hayley have done, and with some work others have done.

I recently spoke with Oxfam Canada, and they’ve got a bunch of case study info from schools, a Catholic school board, and municipalities that would be great to also share with others through this social forum along with your and Hayley’s work, and that of the CSFTN. No doubt Maquila Solidarity Network and the Canadian Labour Congress have scads of info too. [The old Ethical Trade Action Group that achieved so much from 2000 to 2006]

As you can see, there is a lot of potential and also a lot of work that would need to be done to pull all this stuff together [particularly around schools and school boards; the muni guide is pretty well done, I just have to format it to the form Dorothy and I would like it to be in for this forum], synthesize it, and produce a great and useful product to put on the forum as a springboard for student activists and people working with students and school boards. The practical question is who will do this work. We might be able to arrange a coordinated project with some student interns this summer. I’d love to do it myself, but unfortunately can’t put the time in on a voluntary basis, so either way we need to come up with some scratch. I’m sure things will get figured out, and the work you and Hayley did will get the prominence it deserves. We might have to be patient for a couple months though as much as that isn’t ideal (nothing ever is). It would be great to have it done for September.

Comment by activistnotes

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