It’s Monday night at City Hall and the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council has descended on committee room two.
Within minutes, they turn the room from serious to cozy. Snacks, colourful markers and reading material cover the tables. Even the chairs get dragged into a circle.
Since the group formed last September, they’ve done more than just rearrange the furniture. Designed to address the food concerns of Toronto youth, they’ve worked by both reaching out to the community and attempting to influence municipal policy.
Acting chair Tracy Phillippi said both strategies are necessary to create change.
“I think the two really go hand-in-hand and both just come down to youth being seen as legitimate,” she said.
As North America’s first youth food policy council, the group works in connection with the Toronto Food Policy Council to address the food concerns of young people.
Since their inception, they’ve held events like the Food Systems Fair on March 25 at the University of Toronto and the So You(th) Think You Can Cook cooking contest at the Royal Winter Fair.
Policy-wise, they’ve also made recommendations regarding the Toronto Food Strategy report.
Jessica Thornton, co-leader of the research and policy committee, worked on those recommendations.
“Working on the Food Strategy has been a great way to start off because we’re finding out about the most important and recurring issues that youth are interested in or involved in,” she said.
Some of the issues they outlined included lack of food literacy and low income. Phillippi said it’s important to take food issues that affect youth seriously.
“The Toronto Food Policy Council, for all their successes over the past 20 years, doesn’t currently have anybody around the table that’s under the age of 35,” Phillippi said. “It’s not necessarily interests that differ… It’s more the youth food experience that’s different.”
Phillippi said that young people often don’t have the time, money or knowledge available to make healthy food choices.
“What makes them different is the place they’re at in their life. They’re often moving away from home for the first time so they have a budget. And they have less money to spend on public transportation which influences their food availability,” Phillippi said.
The TYFPC hopes to combat some of these problems by providing educational opportunities. In addition to bi-monthly community meetings, they also speak at high schools about food issues. But Phillippi said it’s going to be a long road towards change.
“Our year is winding down, we want the summer months to be a time of reflection,” she said. “Changes are going to be incremental, but even the fact that we exist, that’s huge and exciting.”