While calls to ‘Defund the Police’ were amplified during the unprecedented protests following the death of George Floyd and many others in 2020, here in Vancouver there have long been concerns raised by community groups about a ballooning police budget which has almost tripled since 2000, as well as the criminalization of poverty. Despite this, the term is still wildly misunderstood. Defunding the police doesn’t mean that there would be no police at all. What it does mean is the instalment of alternatives to policing, involving indigenous, peer-led, mental health outreach teams, and the redistribution of a budget that eats up 21% of our tax dollars (FYI, that’s about $800 per minute).
In the face of the new council defunding community groups like VANDU (Vancouver Area Network of Drug Users) to pay for 100 more cops, Ken Sim suggesting the city should charge for basic library services, the VPD’s dubious involvement in the election and their highly flawed attack on non-profit groups, I wanted to create a column that puts a positive focus on what some of these groups are doing and, more importantly, why they need a bigger budget.
During my recent campaign for city council, I attended a virtual Food Justice Town Hall hosted by a group of food justice organizations (each of which deserves their own post). Candidates heard presentations from Dawn Morrison (Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty), Dr. Tammara Soma (Food Systems Lab), LouAnn Schmidt (Kits Cares Café), Christina Lee (hua foundation), Joey Liu (South Vancouver Neighbourhood House), Kanatiio Gabriel (DUDES Club), T’uy’t’tanat Cease Wyss (Working Group on Indigenous Food Sovereignty), and Ian Marcuse (Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks).
The Town Hall explored local food policy issues, opportunities, and the vision for a just and resilient food system in Vancouver. However, it was a single statistic voiced by Marcuse (food network coordinator for the Grandview Woodland Food Connection) that opened my eyes and got me thinking about the idea for ‘Refund Vancouver’: food systems funding for community food organizations engaged in food justice amounts to a mere 0.01% of the City of Vancouver’s $1.9 billion Operational Budget and almost nothing in the City’s $3.5 billion Capital Budget.
The VNFN are a network of community organizations committed to promoting food security in neighbourhoods across the City of Vancouver. They provide a space for networks to collaborate, share best practices, and advocate for food equity & justice, ecologically & culturally sustainable food systems and community food resilience, with a unified voice.
Why is funding for community food justice organizations important?
“Many of us working on food justice at the local level are scratching our heads as to why issues of food security, equity and justice are not showing up as priorities in our City’s budget, especially given the vulnerabilities in our food systems. With our food systems already on the edge, when the next big emergency hits us we simply will not be food security prepared.
Every year the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks have gone to council during budget discussion time and argued for an increase to the Sustainable Food Systems Grant that has remained at around $200,000 for 10 years now, and are always told there is no money in the City budget or how can we show that food systems is more deserving than other City departments. It is not that we are more deserving than other critical programs, but surely the City can find a bit more money for the Sustainable Food Systems grant”. — Ian Marcuse, Food Network Coordinator, Grandview Woodland Food Connection
Because this work is rooted in sustainability and education it’s so much more valuable than charity. It’s about empowerment and building community connections. Based on the latest data from Statistics Canada’s Canadian Income Survey, 5.8 million Canadians, including 1.4 million children, lived in food-insecure households in 2021.