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Food, race and the ethnic aisle

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In many ways he is a local food champion, but I am sure he would not know why he was called that. This speaks to the disconnect of the movement to include stories of those with deep knowledge about local food from many different backgrounds. Ultimately, I believe the "food movement" cannot be successful if it chooses to define itself through disconnected and unrepresentative boardrooms.

In terms of other movements, food justices needs to be part of every movement or ultimately it just becomes an club that only few can participate in.

How much of BC’s food system – especially when it comes to things like agricultural production, importing and distribution – is dependent on the work of immigrants and migrant workers?

Niki: I would like to know these statistics. Between migrant workers, Chinese Canadian and South Asian farmers, I would expect this numbers to be high.

Kevin: With the exception of First Nations, acknowledgement that we are all immigrants is important. From hua foundation’s area of work, it is deeply concerning that there are only three academic studies on the Chinese Food Distribution system, considering how large the system is locally.

The Chinese once produced up to 90% of British Columbia’s vegetables before racist policy pushed them out. Similar to how there is little recognition on Chinese contributions, we rarely acknowledge the “immigrants” and migrant workers that continue to produce our food locally.

What’s up with the “ethnic aisle”?

Niki: I think we need to examine the word "ethnic" and think about what we mean when we say it. Canadians of colour will tell you that the ethnic aisle is where all the food from non-white countries is found. Despite being part of Canada for generations - certain backgrounds are considered more Canadian than others. For example, Chinese people migrated here before B.C. was a province. At what point does a culture or food stop being labelled "ethnic" in Canada?

Kevin: From a business logistics point of view, it is where you put all the “exotic” foods that your business traditionally doesn’t import/buy. For mainstream, non-visible-minorities it is where non-staple items can be found.

The sociological issue with the “ethnic aisle” is that it reinforces the “othering” of people of colour and “diverse” communities. The ethnic aisle is a physical manifestation of the fact that we live in a (white) colonial society where people of colour and Indigenous communities are still regarded as “others”.

I have hopes that the “ethnic aisle” is only a transitory stage as we work towards being more inclusive and recognizing our city’s diverse range of cultural backgrounds.

What can the food movement, and individuals who are a part of it, do to be more inclusive? Or, put another way, what can people from diverse cultural backgrounds do to have more prominent voices around food issues?

Kevin: Not a prescriptive checklist but some ideas: Build and invest in cultural competency. Empower those that have the lived cultural experiences. Work with those that are able to bridge cultures and create intercultural understanding.

Design programs and engagement models with a social justice and decolonizing lens. Recognize tokenism, unconscious bias, and avoid the Social and Moral Licensing trap. Be open to learning and challenging established beliefs and ways of thinking, both individual (self) and community (public).

Niki: I think all those involved in the food movement need to make the inclusion of all people of all backgrounds a priority, particularly those who are already participating in local food production but don't have a voice at the table.

Also, there needs to be more linkages between organizations in different communities doing similar work.

Rebecca Cuttler is an urban gardening teacher, member of the Vancouver Food Policy Council and gardening contributor. She blogs about urban food gardening at

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