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Winston Husbands is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and a member of the Black Food Sovereignty Working Group. Anan Lololi chairs the Black Food Sovereignty Working Group and is a research associate at Toronto Metropolitan University’s Centre for Studies in Food Security. Julian Hasford is an associate professor at Toronto Metropolitan University’s School of Child and Youth Care and a research associate in the Centre for Studies in Food Security. Zakiya Tafari is the executive director of the Afri-Can FoodBasket.

It is increasingly clear that hunger is the reward for Black Canadians’ contributions to making Canada a rich country.

In 2022, according to a recent Statistics Canada report, 38 per cent of Black families were food-insecure, which was more than twice the rate for white families and even surpassed the rate for other racialized families. But this is just where the story begins. For example, Black families with incomes higher than the poverty line are more likely to experience food insecurity than their racialized or white counterparts. Similarly, when a female is the major income earner in a family, four of every 10 Black families are food-insecure, which is far worse than among comparable racialized and white families.

But 2022 is not exceptional. Year after year, national surveys document the crisis of food insecurity among Black communities. In 2017-2018, for example, as much as 9 per cent of Canada’s Black population lived in severely food-insecure households, compared to less than 3 per cent of white Canadians. In 2017, it was estimated that 36 per cent of Black children lived in food-insecure households, compared to 12 per cent of white children.

Here is the nub of the issue: chronic food insecurity is merely part of a broader set of inequities that Black people face. Every year in Canada, Black people comprise up to 25 per cent of new HIV cases, though only five per cent of the country’s population is Black. These and other interrelated inequities signify how Black Canadians are systemically disadvantaged in our society.

Why does this unfortunate situation persist? Why collect data if they do not inform action to change the status quo? Fundamentally, Canadian institutions continue to undervalue how systemic anti-Black racism severely diminishes Black livelihoods and aspirations. Institutions reproduce anti-Black racism through their silence, and by actively resisting evidence about its effects. Public institutions reproduce their often white-supremacist foundations by burying the data about Black communities in the weeds of various reports, casting doubt about the data through technical contrivances, or offering only superficial commentary or interpretation of the problem. Instead of engaging Black stakeholders to amplify Black people’s concerns and leadership, experts and their institutions provide cover for governments to evade their responsibility to the Black citizenry.

Across Canada, governments and government-funded institutions develop and support policies that are indifferent to anti-Black racism and the circumstances of Black communities. Not surprisingly, their solutions end up reproducing or reinforcing the inequities that already characterize Black people’s health and well-being. At the end of the day, Black people remain disproportionately disadvantaged, despite a plethora of plans and strategies that are meant to strengthen Canadian well-being.

As far as food insecurity is concerned, Black stakeholders demand a serious conversation with our elected representatives and high-level decision-makers from our public institutions about the causes and solutions.

We recommend that federal, provincial and municipal decision-makers look at Toronto’s Black Food Sovereignty Plan, which was adopted in 2021. This is the first such plan for any major city in North America. The plan was the product of community advocacy about food insecurity among Black communities in Toronto, especially our focus on food sovereignty between 2019 and 2021, and the strategic intervention of the city’s Confronting Anti-Black Racism Unit.

The plan includes a mix of targeted actions to support Black people’s stewardship of a sustainable food system to meet the needs of Toronto’s diverse Black communities, including improved access to the infrastructure for producing food. We know the plan is not perfect; one of its main challenges is its weak accountability framework. Nonetheless, it represents an important acknowledgment and beginning, and we will advocate for a renewed plan beyond its current five-year lifespan.

Regrettably, Black communities continue to endure the deep deprivations associated with systemic anti-Black racism. Black stakeholders are very aware of what it will take to eliminate the inequities that undermine our well-being and aspirations, but we continue to run up against institutions and experts that forestall our legitimate claims. Unfortunately, systemic inequality is not only injurious to Black communities, but is inefficient and costly for the society as a whole.

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