In episode three of the Courage My Friends podcast, we are joined by Paul Taylor, a life-long anti-poverty activist, current Federal NDP candidate and Executive Director of FoodShare Toronto, Canada’s largest food justice organization.
As Taylor says, “One of the ways I’ve come to think about our work is we are working alongside communities, across the city of Toronto, that have faced chronic underinvestment — that have been on the brunt, or the receiving end, of systemic racism, sexism, those sorts of issues. And we’re working with these communities… to build community-led food infrastructure.”
Where this pandemic seems to have reserved its harshest realities for those already most marginalized within our communities — impoverished, Black, Indigenous, racialized, seniors — according to Taylor this moment is only the latest development in a long-standing food crisis impacting far too many:
“I think it’s really important to contextualize what’s happening with food insecurity in this country. Before the pandemic there were 4.5 million people that were food insecure across this country. That number has skyrocketed. The last count that I saw is now 5.5 million people that are food insecure. So that is like the populations of Toronto, Montreal and Winnipeg combined.”
The food crisis during this pandemic is not just about food access but also about the dangers facing frontline food workers, who grow, pack, sell and deliver our food — working populations who also, and ironically, are forced to deal with food insecurity in their own lives.
“We need to have a bigger conversation about paying the actual costs of food, and also making sure we’re paying livable wages,” Taylor says.
This, of course, is only one of a number of painful ironies discussed by Taylor.
Another is the existence of hunger and poverty in a wealthy country like Canada that celebrates corporate philanthropists for treating people as “compost bins” and policy-makers who continue to rely on the grace and commitment of over-burdened and under-resourced food banks as a way to absolve themselves of delivering on a vital social right.
It is this promotion of charity-based solutions that Taylor finds particularly troubling. As he says, “We feel a moral imperative. I get it. We know that people are struggling with access to food, and we want to do something. I think the problem is what’s been constructed as our default is food banking.”
Reflecting on his own sense of social justice and anti-poverty activism, Taylor locates his awakening in the mid-90s and the so-called Common Sense Revolution, when we were treated to the sauceless pasta and unbuttered bread of neoliberalism in Ontario.
“I was raised by a single mom, powerful Black woman, you know, doing all that she could to support our family. And when I was 13, the province elected Mike Harris, and one of the first things he did was he cut welfare by 22 per cent. And for me as a child, you know, that was the first time I saw my mother cry. And it was earth shattering for me to try and understand what was happening and why someone would make a decision to make it harder for my family to eat.”
Food insecurity is not just a food issue, it’s an issue of systemic oppression and policy failure that demands an overarching or “joined up policy” response. According to Taylor:
“I think we’ve really got to be challenging these underlying systems: White supremacy, classism, capitalism, all of these organizing principles, ableism…that have so much of an impact on who has food in this country to eat and who doesn’t.”
It also demands that we do not allow ourselves to fall into resignation and hopelessness. As Taylor tells us:
“I hear more and more people speaking to me as if they feel that hunger and poverty are inevitable. And I think as soon as we believe that these things are inevitable, that homelessness is inevitable, we’ve lost…we deserve a refund on what we’ve been sold from previous governments.”
Can we finally secure that “refund?” And is it in the right to eat in a post-pandemic world?
About today’s guest:
Paul Taylor is the executive director of FoodShare Toronto and a lifelong anti-poverty activist. He also teaches at Simon Fraser University, is a regular political commentator on CTV and has written numerous op-eds and columns on various social issues. Growing up materially poor in Toronto has inspired Paul to commit his life to doing what he can to dismantle the systems and harmful organizing principles that cause and uphold poverty, food insecurity and wealth inequality, including racism, white supremacy and neoliberalism. In 2020, Paul was named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40, one of Toronto Life’s 50 Most Influential Torontonians and voted as Best Activist by Now Magazine readers.
Transcript of this episode can be accessed at georgebrown.ca/TommyDouglasInstitute
Image: Paul Taylor. Used with Permission
Music: Ang Kahora. Lynne, Bjorn. Rights Purchased
Intro Voices: Chandra Budhu (General Intro./Outro.), Miriam Roopanram, Sharon Russell Julian Wee Tom (Street Voices); Bob Luker (Tommy Douglas quote)
Courage My Friends Podcast Organizing Committee: Resh Budhu, Victoria Fenner (for rabble.ca), Ashley Booth, Chandra Budhu, John Caffery, Michael Long
Produced by Resh Budhu, Tommy Douglas Institute and Victoria Fenner, rabble.ca
Host: Resh Budhu
A co-production of the Tommy Douglas Institute, George Brown College, Toronto, and rabble.ca with the support of the Douglas Coldwell Foundation.