The Stop: how the fight for good food transformed a community and inspired a movement / Nick Saul & Andrea Curtis.
Toronto: Random House, c2013.
This book tells the story of how The Stop, a small neighbourhood food bank, was reinvented over a decade to become a community food centre. The difference? Instead of doling out food charity on an emergency basis, The Stop began to focus on providing both food and dignity to their clients.
They conceive of a Community Food Centre as somewhere that people can come to get food hampers, yes, but also access programming like healthy drop-in breakfasts and lunches, young moms' nutrition programs, culturally centred cooking lessons, assistance with government forms and rules, intergenerational activities, and gardening -- yes, they plant and tend a community garden, with clients volunteering to learn and assist. Volunteers for many of the programs, including cooking, come from within, and this ability to give back as well as receive made a huge difference in the people using The Stop.
This story is really inspiring. It gives a lot of detail about the mechanics of developing from "just" a food bank into a more complex programming centre, and it was clearly a long process full of hard work. But at the same time there is hope and excitement about the successes and the possibilities. I found it illuminating -- the authors discuss the politics of food banks, and how some people were threatened by their new approach, thinking that they were dismissing the whole idea. But it is more that they think food banks are a temporary emergency measure and should not be institutionalized to a degree that removes governments from their responsibilities to the poor and disadvantaged.
The discussion of the politics of food was very interesting. The kind of food that is donated to food banks is often very unhealthy processed food, especially since corporations can write off these donations instead of disposing of their unwanted or unsuccessful products. Also, there is not much opportunity for choice, or the ability to serve someone with specific dietary needs.
Rather than dealing solely with front-line hunger, the authors believe that there should be an examination of the systemic reasons for the poverty that drives food bank use. Looking at minimum wages, rent policies, social security/welfare support, and similar issues is a vital element to reducing the "up stream" causes of hunger.
I really liked this book, and think that everyone interested in any kind of social justice work or food writing would be intrigued as well. They discuss food initiatives around the world as well, so there is lots to follow up on to learn more. Another element that made this of particular interest to me is the fact that The Stop has engendered a movement to create more Community Food Centres in locations across Canada. They started with two new locations, one of which is right here in Stratford. The Local Community Food Centre is a wonderful place, where I've already had the chance to give a few programs both personally and with my library. And I've had the opportunity to participate in one of their drop-in breakfasts, which was both amazingly gourmet and served to the clients at the table, with kindness. It's a wonderful place that I hope to see grow over the years.
To check out The Stop online, explore their website -- it is very inspiring.
Also take a look at Stratford's own Local CFC
And you can explore the new umbrella organization that the author of this book is now heading, Community Food Centres Canada -- you can learn how this process works and see if this is something you need in your own community, too.