An Open Letter To the Chefs of Toronto

Please take a moment to read this message. It’s about a great opportunity that exists for us to shape the way our city engages with food, and it’s something I believe in quite strongly. I send this message to all of you in the supportive and collaborative spirit that exists among our kitchens. – Joshna Maharaj

(This message was originally sent to city chefs, but due to considerable enthusiasm from others, I’d like to extend this invitation to anyone who cares about food.  Please join us at city hall next Tuesday and lend your support to a great new vision for food in our city.  Also, you can show solidarity with chefs in their whites by wearing an apron to the meeting.)

There is a new food strategy being planned for our city. The Toronto Food Policy Council, in partnership with the Medical Officer of Health has created a brilliant 6-point strategy for food system renewal in this city. The goal of this strategy is to “unlock food’s potential to contribute to personal health, vibrant neighbourhoods and a great city.”

You are all food industry professionals, who have chosen Toronto as your home. You understand the glory of the diversity and authenticity available to us in this city, and I’m sure, have your favourite spots for dumplings, brunch & burgers. Food is the city’s number one service and industrial supplier, boasting annual sales of $7 billion. This strategy recognizes the holistic nature of food…that every one of our challenges have food connections.

This food strategy also offers a great opportunity to strengthen our city and raise its profile. Our diverse restaurant sector alone is a signature of Toronto’s creative edge, and taking these next steps in food leadership can help Toronto reach its social, economic and environmental goals. This is about the untapped potential of food to address a wide range of urban priorities.

For a while now, I’ve been going on about the role that chefs can play in advocating for social change. Now, more than ever, food needs a champion, an advocate, and I am convinced that chefs are the perfect people to answer this call. In some way, we all work in the service of food, and we understand its power. The first reason for people to collect around a fire was to share a meal, and as chefs, we have the responsibility of nurturing and preserving this very primal human tradition.

On Tuesday June 1, this food strategy will be presented to the Board of Health. As with all city government meetings, the public is welcome to both attend and address the committee regarding the issues they’re about to consider. This is where you all come in: I am going to speak to the committee, urging them to endorse and fully support this food strategy, on behalf of the food and hospitality industry. The dream is that we could fill that meeting room with as many chefs in their whites as possible, everyone there to lend their support to this plan and vision for food in our city. This is a very visible way for us to collect and voice our opinions to our government on one day at a meeting, but our celebrity and profile can also draw attention to food and make it a central election issue in the fall.

Here’s what I’m asking for:

Your support for a more sustainable, engaged and celebrated food culture.

One hour of your time, at 12:45pm on Tuesday June 1. Deputations are limited to 5 minutes, and you’re free to leave afterward, though you’re also welcome to stay. The meeting is held at City Hall, 100 Queen Street West, in City Hall Committee Room One. We are first in line, and deputations are given at the beginning of the meeting, which starts at 1pm. Though you are not compelled to speak, and this is simply a request for your presence and support, everyone is entitled to some time at the microphone, if they wish.

I know you’re all busy people, but I wouldn’t ask if this wasn’t so important. If you’ve ever wanted to say something about the way our food system works, or if you’ve ever wished that government would take more leadership in promoting good food, this is your chance to speak and be heard. Please consider this, talk to me if you have any questions, and hopefully join us next Tuesday as we start the conversation that could reconnect everyone in our city to good food.

Please feel free to distribute this to other peeps in the industry, this is totally both a front and back of house issue, and we need all the support we can get. Here’s the link to the city’s website on the strategy, and i’ve attached a pdf of the food strategy to this message as well: http://wx.toronto.ca/inter/health/food.nsf

With my sincerest thanks and warm regards,

Joshna

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