Restaurants for Change: Q + A with Nick Saul from Community Food Centres Canada

Posted by Jenny Morris, October 18, 2016

For the third year in a row, The Drake will be stepping to the plate, so to speak, to join 50 restaurants across the country that will be donating dinner service proceeds to Community Food Centres Canada, a national organization that builds vibrant, food-focused community centres in low-income neighbourhoods. Tomorrow at The Drake Hotel , Drake One Fifty or Drake Devonshire . All you have to do is enjoy great food to make a difference!

This post was originally published on Oct. 20, 2015

Nick Saul

Nick Saul ~ Photo Credit Gabriel Li

To learn more about Restaurants for Change, we sat down with Nick Saul, President and CEO of Community Food Centres Canada to chat about collaborating with chefs, the challenges in the current food system and the power of food to nourish communities and create change.

the Stop

Community members shop for fresh produce at The Stop's Tuesday afternoon low-cost Good Food Market. ~ Photo Credit Zoe Alexopoulos

What makes chefs great advocates for change?

We’ve always loved working with chefs. They are some of the most generous people I’ve ever come across and they’re natural nurturers who comfort through food. There’s been an incredible awakening of food issues in the past 10 years and because chefs work within the food realm, they’ve been some of the first to get involved and take a stand. Whether that’s being thoughtful about where food comes from and how to support farmers doing well by the land, to how they can support people and communities.

Right. Chefs have historically been relegated to the four walls of the kitchen but now they have platforms to speak out and reach people.

As a society, we’ve become extraordinarily curious about chefs. The explosion around the superstar chef is quite incredible. With Restaurants for Change, we want to mobilize chefs to be ever more confident in using their platforms and speaking out. Not only about sustainability, which many of them have been doing for a long time, but also being able to say, “Well, if we agree that local, sustainable food is good for the planet and our bodies then surely everyone should have access to it.” We’re bringing chefs into that broader conversation about how we can change the food system and solve sustainability and equity issues through food.

Food sits at the heart of these issues, whether we’re talking about climate change, poor health or inequality. Because chefs are in the business of food, they already have a powerful connection to the issues.

Yeah and what can I say? Chefs are generous. They’re hardworking. And they just want to spread love, in a way!

Awwwww! So what’s wrong with the current food system in Canada?

Our food system contributes disproportionately to climate change, poor health and inequality. Four million of our fellow citizens are struggling to put food on the table. It’s a major crisis and it’s not because there isn’t enough food. There’s plenty of food. This is clearly connected to income issues. And then linked to lack of income and lack of access to good food are the huge problems related to our healthcare system and the health of our population. There’s a lot of cheap, unhealthy food everywhere. And statistics show: the poorer you are, the poorer health you will have. Poverty and lack of income are the single biggest determinants of where you will end up on the health scale.


14 Restaurants for Change Chef Ambassadors gathered in Toronto to visit The Stop + Regent Park CFC + attend the Restaurants for Change kick-off party. ~ Photo Credit Gabriel Li

Diet related illness is costing us so much more in the long run than the immediate expense of making healthy food accessible.

Our current food system is creating unhealthy people. The latest figure I have is that we spend 50 cents of every dollar in Ontario on health care – and a good chunk of that is spent on diet related illnesses like diabetes. This is something we can absolutely turn the tables on.

What can we do to create a healthier and fairer food system?

We have to see food more as a public good and use our tax dollars in much more productive ways. As a society, we need to build a consensus that food is a public good just like we have a societal consensus that if we get sick, we should have a free healthcare system in place. There’s a myriad of ways within the food system where we can repurpose dollars like taking them away from an agricultural system that contributes in such a toxic way to our environment and towards supporting younger farmers get on the field and grow differently.

How do consumers play a role in creating change?

You let your wallet do the talking. We vote with our dollars and the more people speak up, the more manufacturers and retailers will realize there’s a consumer rebellion going on. In the last 10-15 years, consumer choices have driven a very significant change. But if we stop there, a lot of people are left off the table: most notably those that don’t have income to play in that good food realm. We don’t want the rich to have local and organic and the poor to get diabetes. We need to change public policy. For example, ensuring that our municipalities, universities, schools and hospitals are using food budgets to prioritize healthier foods.

Nick Saul

Kids in Regent Park Community Food Centre's food education program get their hands dirty in the kitchen. ~ Photo credit Ikoro Huggins-Warner

In your opinion, what is it about nourishing food that brings people together, builds community and creates change?

At our centres, we create places that are about health and dignity and generosity. We need places like that and food is such an amazing way to do that work. It connects us all. The journey for someone walking through the door often begins with a really good meal. When you cook a meal with a lot of love and thoughtfulness, I think when people eat that meal, they see themselves reflected in it. They can look up and say, “Well someone’s taken a lot of care to put this together which must mean I matter.” And then we create a bunch of ways for people to come into the centre and find themselves: whether that’s through cooking, education, or being part of a volunteer team that sets up a fresh market stand. There’s a whole range of programs we have. You want to create platforms where people can be heard, be valued and contribute. And then move forward with their lives.

Hear hear!

In Toronto, Restaurants for Change supports The Stop , The Regent Park Community Food Centre and Community Food Centres Canada . The inaugural campaign raised $120,000 last year. Gather your friends, family and colleagues and book your reservation at The Drake Hotel , Drake One Fifty or The Drake Devonshire Inn . All you have to do is enjoy great food tomorrow to make an impact. It’s a dinner date.

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