Afri-Can FoodBasket's Anan Lololi on Black food sovereignty

Anan Lololi, co-founder and executive director of Afri-Can FoodBasket, talks Black food sovereignty and the Black Food Toronto initiative.

Afri-Can FoodBasket's Anan Lololi

On food justice

As early as 2000, we got involved in food justice. We actually brought food justice to Canada; we started the conversation of race and food. We got involved in a North America-wide food security coalition, where we championed food justice for people of African descent. We find that a lot of injustice in the food system comes from the experience of anti-Black racism — one of the greatest predictors of food insecurity for African, Caribbean and Black communities in Toronto. Anti-Black racism has shaped the key social determinants of health for Black communities, including the overall experience of poverty, access to housing, income and youth violence.

On food sovereignty

Food sovereignty is the right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods — and the right to define their own food and agricultural system. Every person should be able to do that. But what is African food sovereignty, historically? Well, food sovereignty was the way of life of people of African descent, before colonization by Europeans. Africans had their right to healthy and culturally appropriate food produced through ecologically sound and sustainable methods, and they defined their own food and agricultural systems from time immemorial.

On cultivating African crops

There are lots of crops that we grew in Africa that could grow here. And that’s why the FoodBasket has been promoted for the last 20 years. We can safely say we popularized growing callaloo in Canada, because of how we promote it and grow it and sell it at farmers’ markets. Everything we sell is organically grown. The more we promote the concept of a Black food sovereignty plan, the more it benefits the city, the province, the country, and mostly our community.

On the importance of Black food sovereignty

We have a food system that is broken. Black families are 3.5 times more likely to be food insecure than white families; 36.6 per cent of Black children live in food insecure households. High food insecurity rates have been linked to negative health outcomes including increased likelihood of developing chronic disease like diabetes and cardiovascular disease. Populations affected by food insecurity are the most vulnerable to COVID, putting the Black population at greater risk of contracting the virus.

Black food sovereignty provides a comprehensive approach to chronic food insecurity faced by Black residents in Toronto, addressing the systemic barriers, while increasing access opportunities and ownership of our food system. During my 25 years in food systems, we’ve partnered with a lot of organizations run by white folks, and what we realized is that we need to run our own organizations. There needs to be more Afri-Can FoodBaskets, because we’re more in tune with our communities, cultural components and cultural food ways.

On the Black Food Toronto initiative

When the pandemic started, we decided to set up an emergency food system for our community in partnership with the City of Toronto. We set up Black Food Toronto ­— purchasing food for our community and making sure that they get culturally specific foods. We set out to engage our community and have food sent to them that they would consume, that they are familiar with. Since last year, we have engaged over 15,000 households by delivering food to them, and over 200,000 pounds of food were provided.