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Put Your Best Food Forward

Darcy Higgins Food Forward

Darcy Higgins, Executive Director, Food Forward

Recent documentaries such as Food Inc. (2008) and Fresh (2009) deconstruct and expose how industrialized food manufacturing is affecting our global environment, health, economy and workers’ rights; Fresh goes a step further by providing ideas on how to re-invent our food system in a more sustainable way.

Food Forward, the registered not-for-profit organization based in Toronto, raises the people’s voice for a better food system, integrating the public, politicians and various contacts within the food sector into the ongoing discussion.

“The topic of social media for social good is quite interesting to me,” says executive director Darcy Higgins.

Food Forward puts online networks at the centre of their interactive outreach. The group’s website, pushfoodforward.com, has a regularly updated blog that collecting news on healthy food, farmer and policy-related topics. There’s also a comprehensive listing of non-profit food organizations and projects in Toronto’s burgeoning “food movement,” a collection of key links to federal, provincial and municipal food strategy information, a “good food” events community events calendar; and a get involved section.

Most of the engaging community dialogue takes place on Food Forward’s various Facebook pages and open groups—Higgins currently moderates around two dozen of them, which in only a short time have snowballed from only a handful to 50,000 members—all chock-full of resources and pertinent links. A continuous daily stream of exchanged content by Food Forward and their natural allies (activists, local food eaters bloggers, broader networks like Sustain Ontario and Food Secure Canada, and sustainable business owners) is shared via Twitter.

Sharing advocacy opportunities such as the 2011 Toronto Core Service Review to help Council determine which services to change and ways to address its funding gap, as well as advertising and sharing events such as “Plant A Seed For Earth Hour,” where people are encouraged to participate in their own home, all can be found on Food Forward’s Facebook page.

Coming down the pike: plans for a panel and mixer on queer and gender issues as they relate to food. “My sexuality does influence my advocacy and connection to issues of social justice and marginalization,” says Higgins.

“In the short-term,” he says, “we’re looking to grow Food Forward’s membership and connections with other local food activists and entrepreneurs, create events that engage people in solutions, and educate city councillors and city departments about the importance of policies that allow for residents to do more positive action for healthy food.”

Building community by doing food advocacy work together is a key part of Food Forward’s agenda. One point of concern is the issue of genetically modified seeds, which do not generate seeds for the next season’s harvest, currently being sold to the majority of farmers by corporations, which of course raises production costs for farmers. In the coming years, natural unmodified seeds could be of tremendous value from a currency perspective, critical for the sustainability of agriculture. Seed savers are ahead of the curve. Yes, there are those who save genetically unmodified seeds. You can’t eat gold.

Why work for sustainable food? “It’s the only work I can do,” says Higgins. “I want to make a change in society, and it’s critical to do something, with the overwhelming problems around climate change and global poverty.”

As our ongoing resource issue is continuing to change our global, national and local landscape, Food Forward wishes to educate and scale up a positive network that understands and supports the importance of healthy, local, sustainable, ethically produced food, accessible to all. A lofty vision, but one in which we all need to pay serious attention.

You can learn more about Food Forward by following them on Twitter: @pushFoodForward

Michael Thorner tweets at @michaelthorner

This is an expanded version of an article originally published in IN Toronto Magazine, July 2011 issue.