5 Common Social Justice Issues commonly neglected in Toronto

  1. Homelessness

-Although homeless people trigger feelings of empathy for many people who encounter these individuals on the street everyday, we have come to accept them as a constant characteristic of our city.  By accepting them as this we are accepting the structural inequalities that have made it difficult to succeed in our society.

  1. Cutbacks in healthcare

-Cost effective solutions are not quality solutions.  When it comes to healthcare the best investments are the most effective ones as Paul Farmer is known to say. Healthcare is not something that should compromise with cost-effectiveness.

  1. Gentrification of lower-class neighbourhoods

-Due to the rapid expansion of our city neighbourhoods that are not so central, and until now have been affordable. are becoming too expensive for the residents who have always resided in the neighbourhood. Although this is considered a good thing for many business owners it is unfair to the people who are being kicked out because their neighbourhood is becoming too popular.

  1. War on Fat vs. War on Unhealthy food products

-Many people, who have the time to spare focus so much energy on trying to avoid unhealthy foods, buying organic and getting the nutrients they need from their own food.  Wouldn’t it be more effective in the long run to focus our energy into making food that is supplied to us more healthy all around, not just to people who can pay more?  Instead we fend for ourselves have create a stigma relating body weight to health which does not solve the root of the problem, the unhealthy foods which promote obesity, diabetes, and many other health condition other than fat.  This war on fat we have made such a big deal about is only a side effect of something greater, the limit of healthy food, which is not something we can solve by encouraging people to eat less.

5.  The growing limit of free space

-Also a result of the growth of our city, free space is becoming hard to come by.  Many people who use to have views from their apartments, condos and houses no longer have this privilege.  Although growth is good for the economy, one day this growth may trip on itself, like when food insecurity becomes a visible issue.  I think that there should be some control over the amount of building allowed in a given area, since, we all need space in order to maintain our sanity, don’t we?



Food Insecurity and Community Food Programs in Toronto 

A research paper done by Racheal Loopstra and Valerie Tarasuk (2013) showed the results of a study in which 371 low-income families were interviewed in order to find out what their relationship with community gardens, community kitchens and Good Food Boxes were.  Loopstra and Tarasuk (2013) wanted to discover why, or why nor these families were involved in these three types of programs listed.   

In the discussion, the questionnaire format used to communicate with the families was critiqued because it limited the questions asked and as aresult may have allowed families to oversimplify their answers (Loopstra, Tarasuk 58). A more in-depth study and questionnaire would allow participants to speak more, and get deeper into what factors were preventing them from choosing to use food programs (Loopstra, Tarasuk 58).  This would give policy makers and those researching food insecurity a better idea of what would be appealing, since, as it stands the study did not promote ideas that could spark better solutions. 

I believe that the main problem at the end of the day is the impression that we all need for money to survive in a city.  We live in a consumer society, surrounded by stores and building, and so to see the possibility of self sustainability as a solution is difficult. We do not see the land surrounding us as an income generator, at least for the greater majority of city dwellers. As well, I feel like it seems a bit ironic to tell the poorest city dwellers to grow their own food, as if we were suggesting for them to revert to the olden days when the peasants were always the ones living off the land.  And although I say this, I also believe in the possible success of community gardens, but I think that in order for them to become successful and helpful to lower class citizens they have to become much more accessible and better funded.  

Community programs are limited in funding and as a result are often run by volunteers (Loopstra Tarasuk 58).  Therefore they suggest time, dedication and effort to be placed in their existence and use, concepts that could create an inclusive feel to the programs and make outsiders feel deterred by the idea, especially those who would not have time or energy to contribute much.  The study shows that the participating low income population may have an issue participating due to a high percentage of single parents (almost half of the studies families), chronic health conditions and work (Loopstra, Tarasu 58).   

Unfortunately, the study did not appear to ask for suggestions on what could be improved for families who did use community gardens and the Good Food Box Program and suggestions that might convince  people to participate in community food programs.  A deeper study into the reasons why they do not go would be very helpful. 

By asking for suggestions, low-income families would be given the opportunity and power to change their living situations for the better, since they would know what is needed most.   It would be a positive change, instead of what is commonly done; the government imposing what they believe would be good for the citizens, and as a result, having the upper hand by being able to blame the citizens for not using the programs provided for them.  

 Yet, for all this people need time and energy, all of which is easily taken up by the need for immediate money and food.  It is a circular cycle that could be changed if the government was willing, or pushed to change some of the obstacles preventing low-income families from becoming as successful as they would like to be.  

Loopstra, R and Tarasuk, V. 2013.  Perspectives on Community Gardens, Kitchens and the Good Food Box Program in a Community-based Sample of Low-income Families. Canadian Journal of Public Health, January/Febuary,55-59.

Vital Sign Toronto: What Needs to Improve in our City

The Vital Sign Report of Toronto, reviewed the major problems our citizens faced everyday in 2012. 
The report began by presenting the opinion of about half of the cities population, who feel very comfortable walking in their neighbourhoods always (Vital Signs).  Meaning that half of the population does not feel that safe even in the area they know well and go through every day. 
The report then cued in on the crime statistics of the year, still under the heading of safety.  The following are the details I found most intriguing which may define a greater problem then the government would like to address.
Most of the homicide victims in Toronto are young (one-third were younger than 25 in 2012). Are these youth the ones that will grow up and become the two-thirds above 25 who are still committing crimes?  This information is not accounted, but the next few pages of safety are focused on programs which are out there to rehabilitate youth gang members, help marginalized children prepare for employment opportunities, and help them understand the judicial system.  
Which brings up another striking fact that “Almost half of young Torontonians feel the judicial system isn’t likely to treat them fairly.”  This statement could be considered a paranoia of the youth, but doesn’t all paranoia stem from some form of truth?  This calls into question the perspective we have of Toronto youth and should make us question why is this so?
Clearly youth are our future, and it appears from the statistics that the government is taking measures to offer at risk youth programs to get them off the street and into better peer groups.  But for the most part they do not enter these programs without a push on the back.  I think the government needs to look at the root of these youth violence problems instead of offering a helping hand when damage has already been done and they are facing the bad side of the law.   
Poverty levels seem to be getting higher.  “Childcare subsidies are only serving 28% of low income kids.”  Showing a lack of support for these low wage families.  As well ” There is a link between [a] school’s socio-economic profile and the percentage of students taking applied courses,” meaning the majority of poor kids are in applied courses, and rich kids in academic classes.  I think all these facts link together to provide deficit in attention paid to low income neighbourhoods.  As a result of the governments holdback on assistance education is being de-valued and this reflects children’s’ performance at school.  If a parent can’t afford after day school care their work and their money becomes the priority in order to provide for the child, and the importance of education becomes secondary.  If this is how a child grows up, with money being of primary importance a child could easily be mislead into believing education is not that important, especially when schools in poor areas are promoting applied, second best classes to most of their students.  This shows a lack of stimulation and motivation in education from kids in low economic families. The government needs to solve these problems instead of trying to tie back their stray ends.
Toronto’s Vital Signs. 2012. Toronto Community Foundation.

Food Insecurity in our Big City

A study done in 2009, and one done in 2010 by Sharon Kirkpatrik (Division of Cancer Control and Population Science) and Valerie Tarasuk (Department of Nutrition Sciences) displayed results of 501 Torontonian residents, of working class backgrounds.  The results showed that 37.6% of families were moderately food insecure, and 27.7% were severely food insecure, meaning that they did not have enough money to supply their families everyday (Kirkpatrik, Tarasuk, 136).  To counter this everyday struggle the most popular solutions in order of popularity were to delay paying bills, delay paying rent, pawn personal belongings and give up their cable television service (Kirkpatrik Tarasuk, 137).

  The website PROOF, which is dedicated to promoting awareness to hunger issues in Canada, recently stated that 3.6 Canadians do not have adequate access to food  Clearly this is a big issue that has not been publicized enough.  Many of us feel grateful to live in a land of opportunity, yet these statistics question what some of us take for granted, food, which keeps us healthy and able to do the thing we want.

Some people might argue that food banks are a valid solution, but today a research of food insecurity made it clear that food banks are, and were never meant to be a sustainable solution.  By having them around we are enforcing the inequality that continues to exist, rather than finding a legitimate solution to the problem.  And although there are many food banks, the low rate of use, compared to the high amount of food insecure families goes to show that people choose not to use these food banks, and instead, they often resort to other strategies that create greater instability, such as delaying rent.  Perhaps this is a result of the beliefs of our society has created; we see ourselves as fully responsible for our actions and state of being for the most part.  So to go to a food bank and accept our lack of ability to access food seems counter-intuitive.  But, maybe it goes even further than that, is it not after all the government who has created the policies preventing higher wages, housing availability and providing the food banks?  They are the ones responsible for these social structures that either limit us or further our own abilities.  So, to question, what should those who have food insecurity do is perhaps the wrong question, Kirkpatrik and Tarasuk’s research show that these families are doing what they can to keep on surviving, whether through food banks or not.  Perhaps the question that could lead to more effective solutions overall should be, what should the government do to help these struggling families? 

Kirkpatrik, S and Tarasuk, V. 2009.  Food insecurity and participation in community food programs among low-income Toronto families. Canadian Journal of Public Health, March/April, 135-139.

Kirkpatrik, S and Tarasuk, V. 2010.  Assessing the relevance of neighbourhood characteristics to the household food security of low-income Toronto families. Public Health Nutrition, 13(7),1139-1148.


Q&A on Food Insecurity Issues.   

What is food insecurity and how does it affect us in Toronto? 

The problem stems from high land costs and accessibility to transnational food products.  Because we are able to get cheap food from around the world at our local grocer, our local farmers are finding it very difficult to compete with the low prices and still make a living (Lister 151).  The amount of land that is farmable in Ontario in growing smaller due to our growing population size, and it may continue to do so as development of the GTA continues (Lister 160).  Farmers are being forced to sell their land and find new ways to make money because it is not profitable enough to continue providing their local crops (Lister 160). 

Consumers are promoting far away food markets, instead of our locally grown products, which would be much more nutritious and beneficial for our economy ( Lister 160).  In this way food is becoming an insecure concept, and will continue to become more insecure as farmland becomes less available and we become even more dependent on transnational food markets. 

Why are famers unable to profit from their products? 

The large corporations who produce the food bought off the farmers have been decreasing the value of the farmers products by asking less and less money for their products (Lister 161)).  By decreasing their value, the corporations are all limiting the farmers accessibility to money and ability to produce their product (Lister 161).  As a result smalltime farmers are growing scarce, while large production corporations are gaining money and setting up their own farming sites completely owned and run by the company (Lister 161). 

What is the problem with corporate farming? 

Corporate farmers are “turning agriculture into industry” (Lister 165).  This is not good because along with big industry comes new technology that is often unhealthy for the environment. Corporate farms tend to grow the same type of crop in the same field every year, which does not allow for the land to gain nutrients back which the same crops are taking away from it (165).  As a result there is a high use of herbicides and pesticides (Lister 165).  These reoccurring crops, coupled with high use of chemical treatment have a negative affect of the surrounding ecosystem, and to the consumers who ingest these products (Lister 165).  And it will only become a more serious issue if we let it. 

What is the terminator seed? 

It is a seed that is sterile, it can only be used once (Lister 166).  If a farmer chooses, or has no other choice but to use these seeds he or she is creating a great dependency on the supplier (Lister 167).   Every year that farmer will have to buy more seeds if he would like to continue farming, which is counter intuitive for many farmers who save their best seeds each year (Lister 167).   

As well, since the farmer is unaware where the seed is from, and what genetic modifications have been used to alter the terminator seed they could be a harmful to ones well being, and have many unknown consequences (Lister 165).  This is where it becomes a clear social justice issue.   

How does food availability affect consumers? 

According to Lister the higher the price, the more nutritional value provided (Lister 170).  This is unfortunate for those who are not well off, cannot afford the most nutritious food and must resort to the lower quality, likely genetically modified products (Lister 170).  This creates a variety of health problems mostly affecting the poor (Lister 170).  As well, in low-income areas of the city grocery stores are less accessible, and often have lower quality fresh products if the store is part of a corporation (Lister 170).  There is also a higher prevalence of fast food chains in low income areas, promoting unhealthy eating as more acceptable (Lister 170).     


Creating green spaces for growing crops in the city, such as greenhouses could be used to promote consumers to become active in the production of food (Lister 179).  As well the creation of shareholding of local organic farmers crops is a useful incentive for their continued success in the business, allowing them to farm in a less stressful environment (Lister 176).  Lister mentions how the Niagara wine region has become a major tourist destination, and perhaps this is a good idea that could be used to promote awareness of the remaining farmland in Ontario (Lister 178).