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April’s Food Justice Advocacy, Collective Action & Movement Organizing Conversation

Our thanks to Katie German, Director of Advocacy and Programs with FoodShare Toronto for joining us to be in conversation around FoodShare’s approach and work in food justice advocacy. And, to Uncle Mike who offered some reflections as well as Sarah Kim, CoP member and first ever Manager of Advocacy and Engagement for the Vancouver Foundation who was also prepared to share some reflections which we didn’t get in this session.


If you’re reading this before May 18, FoodShare is hosting a conversation on Navigating Settler Philanthropy: A conversation on reconciling changemaking withn the settler-dominated nonprofit industrial complex.


We’ve been looking up to FoodShare Toronto for years as an organization that centers the right to food, food justice, and community organizing. Going into the conversation with Katie for our April CoP, she generously offered to share on:


🍎How FoodShare got comfortable doing more advocacy work in recent years

🍎How FoodShare operationalized and and built consensus on their advocacy goals

🍎How FoodShare reframed programs to be an organizing tool for advocacy work

🍎 Working with community and mobilizing around policy change


What follows is what we were grateful to hear and learn!


🍎How FoodShare got comfortable doing more advocacy work in recent years

Even as a food security organization, FoodShare knew that food systems are built on and maintained by racism, classism, patriarchy, and colonialism – all of which need to be dismantled. They knew they needed to do more around the connection between food insecurity and race, white supremacy, income, and class. 


At first they had a Food Justice Manager. This prompted the question: If we have a food justice department doing food justice work, what are the other departments doing? The next big shift was empowering all departments and staff teams to do the work of food justice. Food justice work often addresses food insecurity, but food security work does not always address questions of food justice. 


🍎 FoodShare operationalized and and built consensus on on their advocacy goals by: 


  •  Wrestling with questions like: How do we bring staff and the board into consensus? What might the impact be on their charitable status? Would a more pronounced advocacy role upset funders and partners?  


  • Forming and securing funding for an advocacy committee with staff, board members, and community members who are connected to, but not employed by, FoodShare. The Executive Director and staff in the Advocacy team do not vote in this committee. 


  • Developing a process that all requests for endorsement on an issue go to the advocacy committee who make a consensus-based decision rather than it going to the Executive Director.


  • Asking the guiding question: Is this FoodShare’s work? Is it appropriate for our organization to endorse this or not? Does it align with the strategic plan, mission, and values (which have been updated to clearly focus on food justice)? 


  • Sending endorsement decisions to the Board for consideration after the advocacy  committee has reviewed and recommended action. By the time they make a public statement, it has already been discussed and approved by a number of people who care deeply about the organization. FoodShare is putting things out that would not have 10 years ago, getting bolder on what gets commented on and endorsed.


🍎 How FoodShare reframed programs to be an organizing tool for advocacy work


Katie used to be the Director of Programs when advocacy lived in a few different spaces; she’s now the Director of Advocacy and Programs. This gave advocacy a clear home in the organization, and also led to questioning the rationale for long standing programs, like teaching people how to cook.


Research clearly shows that people experiencing food insecurity have the same or better cooking and budgeting skills than people with food security. Now these programs are an organizing tool that fit within the broader advocacy strategy of mobilizing FoodShare’s board base of supporters to action.


🍎 Working with community and mobilizing around policy change


Now when FoodShare brings people together for a program, the purpose is community organizing and mobilizing. All their workshops now talk about power and politics of food which leads to bigger mobilization opportunities. 


For example, FoodShare’s Right to Food Campaign purpose is to prompt the City of Toronto to acknowledge the right to food. Specifically the goal is for communities that experience food insecurity and poverty to write and update the Toronto Food Charter.


When FoodShare brings people together for a community kitchen, they use that time to talk about power in the food system, share knowledge about the right to food, collect signatures for the Right to Food campaign and then give that to the City. The petition and Digital Day of Action were successful and the motion was unanimous to update the charter.


On a question about scalability and working with other groups, Katie offered that, 

It depends on what you want to win and how you want to win it. Sometimes it makes sense to make the biggest coalition possible and make demands from the province… but it very much depends on the type of messaging you want.

Often there is an issue where there are places of both agreement and disagreement. Katie’s wisdom is that “movement work is based on relationships and trust. Forming a formal coalition might not always be the best way.” The biggest fastest win she’s been a part of was getting cops out of schools in Toronto. By working with a broad base of groups on the same issue, connecting with each other on an app like Signal that protects privacy,  “you can work in coalition without making a coalition”. 


Most organizational theories of change, usually ask, why do we do what we currently do? FoodShare’s new Theory of Change  starts with the question, “How will we win?”  This is an organizing and movement mobilizing question rather than an operational one. Sometimes the answer to this question meant making changes, in other cases stopping the work and sometimes starting new work. 


Katie emphasizes that organizing work isn’t just action and protest. She says it is ⅓  action, ⅓ internal tasks like inviting and facilitating meetings, creating agendas, taking and sharing meeting minutes, and all the care and relationship building involved in bringing people together. The final ⅓ of organizing work is political analysis: What are we doing? Why? Who isn’t here and what are the barriers to their participation? What ideas are informing our strategy and plan? 


Non-profits often fail at convening coalitions or tables because the work of sustaining the coalition dominates. If our work is rooted in analysis- thinking together into how it all fits within colonialism, capitalism and white supremacy, we are better positioned to act together in powerful ways. We need to be asking ourselves who we want and spend the time on relationships to make that possible. 


FoodShare now has a mission, vision, values, and a culture around social change and is seeing some wins. Donations have increased, especially from unrestricted funds from monthly donors, debunking the common concern that taking on advocacy would necessarily mean a loss of funding.


Some of FoodShare’s ongoing and recent campaigns and work:


🍏 Demanding a new Toronto Food Charter 

🍏#ShowtheSalary organizing for pay transparency from Charity Village & the nonprofit sector (a read from NonprofitAF on why not showing salary range is archaic and inequitable)

🗞️ You may also have seen FoodShare in the news recently about how they started paying job interview candidates for their time 

💸 FoodShare recently released new fundraising guidelines that are rooted in food justice 

💻 Katie also recently joined this webinar on decent work practices in the nonprofit sector sharing more about FoodShare’s justice-oriented HR policies