2004: Canada’s debate about a new deal for
our cities is focused on infrastructure, on the assumption
that the billion dollar investment in Toronto’s subway
system is representative of this new arrangement. Not everyone
A number of voices, my own included through my involvement
with the Toronto Food Policy Council, have sent a message
to Toronto MP John Godfrey, Parliamentary Secretary for Cities
and Mike Harcourt, Chair of our federal government’s
new Advisory Committee for Cities – this message: improved
urban life means better food solutions.
Food plays an important role in the economy of Canada. Food
choices account for some 20 percent of retail sales and of
service jobs, ten percent of industrial jobs, 20 percent of
car trips and traffic, 20 percent of chronic diseases, 25
percent of fossil fuel energy and air pollution, 40 percent
of garbage, 80 percent of sewage.
Food is about economics: it influences our health and productivity,
and our culture. More than with any other of our biological
needs, the choices we make around food affect the shape, style,
pulse, smell, look, feel, health, economy, street life and
infrastructure of our cities.
There's an old saying: we are what we eat. It is equally
obvious: a city is what it eats.
Food habits determine the character of our cities:
- Whether our main streets are fast-food strips or lined
with spots that breathe local flavor and character.
- Whether there's a Little Italy, Little India or Asian
Village anchored by restaurants and groceries that nourish
entrepreneurs and cultural cooking traditions
- Whether the poor, elderly and physically disabled can
access nearby grocers that sell fresh nutritious produce.
- Whether backyards are splashed with the green hues of
vines, squash and corn, or sport fence-to-fence grass.
- Whether people treat food scraps as garbage or as valuable
- Whether highways are clogged with refrigerated 18-wheelers
transferring produce across the continent or local farmers
bringing in the day's harvest on pick-up trucks.
- Whether our health systems are forced to deal with expensive
diet related crises such as heart disease, diabetes, obesity,
- Whether low incomes families have a place at our bountiful
- Whether the money spent on food stays in and near the
city to create more jobs here, or leaves town overnight
to create jobs there.
- Whether shoppers drive to pick up convenience foods from
box stores or walk to neighborhood outdoor markets for locally
grown fresh and homemade products.
A new urban agenda for Canada cannot only be about public
transport and infrastructure. Our cities are what we eat,
as well as what we build.
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