Our Good Food Rules

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The Table, along with the other Community Food Centres, has adopted some straightforward approaches to healthy food and healthy eating that are intended to have a positive impact on the health of the people we work with, the environment and other players in the food system.  We understand that there are severe constraints on the choices open to many of our participants, but we try to empower them to push back against these barriers to create as big a space as possible to take control over their own food.   Though we care a lot about food, we try not to be zealots and to remember that above all, food should build community and be a source of pleasure.

Our Food Is Nutritious And Delicious

There are many foods that are both “good for you” and “nice to eat“. The food we serve in meal programs and cook in community kitchens is intended to offer proof of this principle.  We work from the principle of good nutrition, not an overly technical view of nutrition that reduces food to its most basic elements.

What we do: model healthy and delicious with meals we serve, recipes we teach;  avoid preaching or pushing overly challenging foods; and figure out what people like and work with it.

If in Doubt Throw it Out (by composting and recycling when possible)

Saving food from the landfill by distributing it to people who do not have a choice is not a “win-win” in a society as wealthy as Canada.  We do not distribute dented cans or other sub-optimal foods. Having to accept them is de-moralizing when you don’t have a choice. If a food item would not be at home on the table/in the cupboard of anyone, regardless of income, it should not be distributed through a food bank or other food program.  Some gleaned food is great—particularly good quality food in quantity for the food bank, or food that can be cooked up into a meal for a meal program, but if it is stale, wilted or damaged in any way, we do not accept it.  From a health and morale standpoint, we take the view that “any food is NOT better than no food.” 

What we do:  throw out or refuse the worst food in the food bank; minimize less nutritious foods (canned soup, macaroni and cheese, sweetened drinks); put out lists of foods that we do want; and raise money to dedicate toward healthy food purchases.

People who eat together like each other more

We look for all opportunities to build social ties through “commensality” (sitting down and eating together) with community members.

What we do:  most programs offer community members opportunities to eat together; and staff are encouraged to eat with participants and volunteers, and pay the basic cost for meals.

Honour food traditions and preferences, but push the envelope

We encourage participants to broaden their tastes, but we don’t force it too far. To work with peoples’ existing tastes, we will often find out what people like and work with it to make recipes healthier – e.g. baked French fries or sweet potato fries,  healthy pizza/lasagna).  We encourage participants to join in the experiments when possible.  We profile a variety of cultural foods when possible and look for opportunities to provide them through programs.

What we do:  offer program participants opportunities to suggest foods and lead sessions; plant foods beloved by various ethno-cultural groups s in public, visible gardens;  honour a variety of cultural celebrations; and  promote storytelling about food, traditions and cultural practices.

Consider the impact our food choices have on people, animals and the environment

When possible, we try to think about– and encourage others to think about– how food was produced.  Were the farmers or farm workers made sick or exploited through its production?  What about the environmental impact?  Pesticide use, energy use (e.g. through hothouse production) and the distance the food has travelled are pertinent to think about.  We are concerned as well about humane conditions for animals on farms and, in general, about the negative impacts of an industrialized approach to faming.  With fish, as well, we consider whether it comes from a sustainable source (avoiding non-organic fish farms, endangered types of fish, fish caught in an unsustainable way).

What we do:  Observe purchasing policy that prioritizes local, sustainable, organic, fair trade, humanely-produced when possible; purchase and profile sustainable products through catering and dinners; prioritize organic or sustainable food when possible; be creative about matching our beliefs with our budget; and pay farmers for their food. Help to raise awareness about farmworkers issues. 

Develop the skills necessary to cook and grow more food

We try to help people to not be  a victim of food advertising or the food industry; being able to choose, cook and grow good food is a means to feeling good about yourself, saving money, improving health and keeping friends and family close.  At the same time, it is important to recognize that food skills can improve quality of life and health, but will not solve poverty or poor living conditions (no,  we will not end hunger with the widespread teaching of how to soak beans).  We don’t assume that people don’t know what they’re doing in the kitchen and garden.  We may be losing skills as a society but there are still many skills lying fallow in our community, and we need to be open to leadership/skills/knowledge in many forms.

What we do:  Offer hands-on skill building workshops that inspire through demonstration;  recognize and support program participants to share skills;  and avoid patronizing language and suggesting that people “just need to learn to budget better”.

Budget for healthy food

Sometimes healthy food  is about setting priorities.  We create budget lines and fundraising targets for good quality food, rather than assuming that lower quality food will do just fine.  Aiming high is the first step toward actually achieving the goal, though of course we don’t underestimate the challenges that many organizations face in the resource department.   Healthy food advocates can work toward strategic ways to bridge the price gap between good quality food and low-income consumers/agencies serving them, either through subsidizing distribution mechanisms or finding subsidies to inject into programs.

What we do: stress the value of healthy food through community programs;  create free or low cost ways to access good food; highlight the benefits to social and physical  health of good quality food in fundraising materials; and  raise money targeted to food purchase through fundraising campaigns.

Don’t ask (most) farmers for handouts

Farmers may be willing to give to charitable organizations but by and large local farmers are struggling and finding a way to pay them is better.  There may be opportunities to buy below market price in certain circumstances (a crop that would go to waste, leftover produce after markets).  As well, there may be individual farmers or natural food companies who are doing well in the community that  we can approach for food donations, with sensitivity.

What we do: cultivate relationships with farmers and local ethical distributors to be able to take advantage of non-exploitative price opportunities;  find ways through pre-purchasing, bulk buying to create economic benefits for the farmer other than premium prices;  and raise money to buy food at fair prices.