December is fast approaching and many politicians will soon be urging us to donate to our local food banks.
They’ll stand for photo ops behind stacks of groceries alongside massive companies like Walmart, who are known to pay their employees poverty wages, then spend millions of dollars advertising their charitable food donations. It’s the same kind of “greenwashing” that big polluters have long been engaging in.
Last week, the organizers of the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow were criticized for allowing massive oil companies to present on human rights issues. Bernard Looney, CEO of British multinational oil and gas company BP, received a platform to discuss “human rights in the just transition.”
I don’t believe he mentioned when the UK government found BP to have repeatedly violated human rights in Turkey, or the accusations they’ve faced of funding for paramilitary groups in Colombia to defend their pipelines.
Meanwhile, at the People’s Summit for Climate Justice, thousands of climate leaders and activists met across Glasgow to identify climate strategies that would actually reach climate zero with a platform of Indigenous sovereignty, reparations to the Global South, and a worker-led just transition.
“Putting a price on natural resources is an act of colonialism and inhumanity. But there are other ways, humanity-based alternatives that we’ll share so they can’t say that they didn’t know,” said attendee Calfin Lafkenche, a Chilean human rights organizer and coordinator of the Indigenous Minga solidarity network.
Indeed, closer to home the climate crisis is already impacting access to food. Devastating heat, unprecedented cold and other extreme weather events have contributed to world food prices soaring by an unprecedented 31 per cent in the past year alone.
Most of us are feeling the pinch, but for people living in poverty, this price increase could be a death sentence.
One in eight households in Canada is already living without enough food to meet their nutritional needs. For Indigenous peoples, it’s nearly one in two households.
As these crises mount, it’s becoming clearer that food security and climate change are linked problems with linked solutions. But we need to look beyond the limits of charity, and turn our emphasis to the protection of human rights, be it the ones currently enshrined in international covenants or the ancestral rights of Indigenous peoples over their territories.
Thankfully, the foundation for a right to food has already been laid for us. It’s enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948. It is more specifically detailed in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada ratified in 1976. As a result, Canada has a legal obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the right to food – an obligation it’s failed to honour for decades and has failed to imbed domestically.
This holiday season, the most generous thing you can do isn’t simply to donate leftovers or cans from your pantry or write your annual cheque. It’s to challenge yourself to stop learn more about food justice advocacy in Canada, especially within affected communities that have been organizing for decades. It’s to contact your elected officials directly and ask them how they plan to respect, protect and fulfil Canada’s right to food especially in the context of the climate crisis. And it’s to call out corporations and politicians when they use charity as a shield and a prompt for their own harmful and continued inaction.
We must think of food insecurity as we do the climate crisis – as a pressing issue of political and societal will. Only then can we truly ensure that Canadians’ have a real right to food.
Paul Taylor is executive director of FoodShare Toronto.