Where does it come from? Vancouver’s Food Supply

by Emily Townsend
February, 2017

Imagine this: A mouth-watering kale salad, a fragrant shepherdless pie, and a candied banana pudding sitting right in front of your eyes. Now, take a moment to think about it. Where was this kale harvested from? In what conditions were these potatoes grown? How much energy was put into the transportation of these bananas? There are countless questions that we want to–and we need to–ask about our current food systems.

On February 6, coFood hosted a dinner event to discuss the complex systems behind Vancouver’s food supply. We gathered together for a delicious vegan zero-waste dinner from Ethical Catering by Lupii Cafe, to hear presenters Kevin Huang and Nicholas Waissbluth speak about their experiences with our food systems. The night was a beautiful mix of thought-provoking questions, research-based presentations, and juicy discussions–all while we enjoyed a spectacular meal.

Did you know that early Chinese-Canadians produced up to 90% of Vancouver’s fresh produce?

Kevin Huang, Executive Director of the Hua Foundation, discussed the importance of recognizing Chinese-Canadian history in Vancouver in order to understand our past and present food systems. Chinese-Canadians have faced a long history of racial inequalities that are still present today. In a rapidly growing economy, Chinese-Canadians, along with many Canadians, are struggling to learn how to live in a world where we can be economically stable, environmentally sustainable, and culturally sensitive.

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The Hua Foundation is working to empower Chinese-Canadian youth to learn about these complexities through programs like The Choi Project–an initiative that provides multilingual information about our food through products and services like seasonal vegetable guides and cooking workshops. Kevin presented an eye-opening experience as he outlined the many misconceptions we have Chinese-Canadians’ role in Vancouver’s food systems.

Can you imagine an urban food supply controlled by robots who plant, water, and harvest our food?

Nicholas Waissbluth, Principal of W/A Office, CoFounder of uAbureau, and Adjunct Professor at UBC School of Architecture, presented his graduate students’ research on what our urban food supply looks like today, and their visions for what it could look like in the future. The students conducted research on our current food system, our growing population, our city’s layout, and urban farming technologies, in order to develop designs of what our local food system could look like in the future.

One student even designed a building with apartments that had gardens controlled by robots. It was a fascinating opportunity to step into the mind of an architect when thinking about our current and future local urban farming.

View Nick’s presentation.

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While Kevin looked at our food system specifically through the Canadian-Chinese community, Nicholas looked at our food system through the physical layout of our city. These two different presentations, as well as the passionate discussions that arose from them, show how our interdisciplinary collaboration can contribute to the dialogue and action needed to foster a healthy food system.

So, please, let’s take a moment to reflect on that meal in front of us: There is a person (maybe even a robot) that produced, transported, and delivered that kale; there is land that provided its soil for those potatoes to grow in; and there is air that was polluted to transport those bananas.

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