Six questions with Nick Saul
What drove you to work in the community food sector and advocate for changes to Canada’s food system?
When I was younger, my family lived in Mozambique and though we were an academic expat family, I remember waiting in line for rationed milk and bread. It was a formative experience, but the importance of food to health and community didn’t really kick in until many years later when I began working in low-income communities in Toronto. A basic question kept looping in my head: why is it that some people eat comfortably 3-4 times a day while so many others scramble to find a single meal? Changing the inequity of this reality motivates me and our team here at Community Food Centres Canada each and every day.
How did the Community Food Centre movement start?
It started when I began working at The Stop in the late 1990s, which was then a small, underfunded food bank. I would watch people stand in line to pick up an unhealthy handout of food with their eyes on the ground. That’s the definition of soul destroying, and also total madness given what we know about the potential of food to build health, belonging and social change. Those line-ups and listening to community members speak about wanting dignity and a way to contribute sparked what we now know as the Community Food Centre movement. In the six years since we started CFCC, we’ve grown into a national organization supporting 12 partner Community Food Centres and 140 partner Good Food Organizations from coast to coast to coast, all working to build health, community, and belonging through the power of food.
What do you find most rewarding about this work?
It’s the stories of perseverance and personal and community change that keep us energized and moving forward. Anytime someone in one of our centres speaks about how our food, health and community-building work has helped bring stability, friendships and health into their lives, I’m reminded that the complexity of what we’re doing across the country is so worth it.
If you could fix one problem with our food system right now, what would it be?
I’d like to see a consensus or understanding that food matters greatly to our environment, public health and idea of equality. Imagine if we had such a societal consensus! We’d produce food in a way that didn’t torch our land and make us sick; there would be less waste; companies wouldn’t market (because they wouldn’t be making it!) unhealthy food to our kids; our tax dollars would support good food in all our public institutions including schools; and, most importantly, no one in this country would ever again feel the indignity of standing in a lineup for food or wonder where their next meal will come from. That’s the kind of future we’re helping to build at Community Food Centres Canada.
What role does an event like Restaurants for Change play in the larger context of your work?
Restaurants for Change is one of our signature annual fundraising events. It supports our work and the work of our partners, and we’re incredibly lucky to have such a generous, talented group of chefs and restaurants contributing to our cause and helping us advocate for a fairer, healthier food system. Restaurants for Change is about more than raising money—it’s a chance for us to come together, as Canadians who care about food, to talk about the fact that we live in a wealthy country where four million of us are food insecure, struggling with poor health and social isolation as a result. Restaurants for Change is about bringing more voices to the table and uniting to say that we won’t accept this, and that our food system needs to change.
What’s next for Community Food Centres Canada?
In our 2017 Annual Report, we highlight the headway we’ve made in creating better access to healthy food, better physical and mental health, as well as a stronger sense of belonging. More people are feeling empowered to take action and make a difference in their community. All of this makes us ambitious to keep going – building more Community Food Centres, stewarding and inspiring the growing movement of organizations that view food as a force for goodness in the world and influencing the public policy realm where many of the big decisions on food get made. We need to keep our eye on government while at the same time building the future we want to see in low-income communities across the country.