On Monday, December 5th, 2016, over 50 students, workers, academics, activists and community members gathered at our December community meeting held at the Workers Action Centre to discuss the topic of hidden labor in our food system and make space for the stories of food workers that often go unheard. Our food system is heavily reliant on workers across the food chain who grow, harvest, package, transport, sell and serve our food to us daily. While the food industry makes up one the largest work forces in Canada, the labor, rights and experiences of food workers has remained hidden for far too long and is often characterized by precarious work conditions and racialized and migrant labor.
Our lively evening began with an opportunity for guests to grab a spot at a “networking table”, introduce themselves and share with one another their various experiences and connections to food. The room was filled with vibrant chatter as well as the aroma of the delicious daal, curry and zeera rice, catered by ‘Flavors of Thorncliffe’, a women’s catering collective in Thorncliffe Park. Guests then gathered to toast the launch of the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council’s academic journal: ‘The Gathering’ and applaud the creative and insightful work of the authors and TYFPC members who brought the journal to life.
The following portion of the night invited food workers and food and labor activists to sit on our guest panel to share their experiences of food work in Ontario. Panel members attested their realities of poor work conditions and spoke to the fragility of their jobs, as well as the critical work that groups are currently pursuing to fight for better wages and employment conditions and status for workers. One of our panelists, Chris Ramsaroop, a pivotal member of ‘Justicia for Migrant Workers’ and the ‘Harvesting Freedom’ campaign communicated the importance of storytelling. This has been a critical part of the ‘Harvesting Freedom’ campaign which has been running via a caravan of migrant workers and allies travelling throughout Ontario since September; promoting worker’s rights for migrant farmworkers and creating safe spaces for their voices. Two other panelists spoke about their involvement in UNITE HERE Local 75, a union representing hotel, restaurant and food service workers, majorly comprised of women and people of color. The two panelists highlighted the unfair changes from new union contracts that Aramark food workers employed at the University of Toronto and York University were fighting against and the resilient ways in which they were supporting one another.
All our panelists brought worthwhile insight and discussion, emphasizing the value in continuing these kinds of conversations and acknowledging the diversity of experiences of workers across the food system. We hope the event sparked a hunger for change for those who attended and their wider communities as well as continued support towards the tireless efforts of groups such as ‘Justicia for Migrant Workers, UNITE HERE Local 75’s campaign and No One is Illegal.
A big thanks to our panelists for giving their time and energy for the night and for the energetic presence of our guests. Our academic journal, ‘The Gathering’ – Volume 3 is now available online here and will be offered in print this coming month. The TYFPC is now also accepting creative art submissions(drawings, graphics, poems, photos and more) for our art’s journal: “Melange”. Please send your submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org with “Melange 2017 Submission” in the subject line. Stay tuned via our Facebook, Twitter and our Newsletter for updates on TYFPC’s next events and our next community meeting on Monday, February 6th, 2017! For any further questions or comments please email us at email@example.com!