York participates in David Suzuki’s virtual classroom

David Suzuki discusses the state of Canada's food supply

There are few environmental heavyweights who loom larger than David Suzuki. Last week, he was joined by J.B. MacKinnon author of The 100-Mile Diet and Utcha Sawyers, food justice and sovereignty activist, educator and organizer for FoodShare Toronto, to talk about the state of Canada’s food system.

The talk coincided with Suzuki’s cross-country “Blue Dot Tour,” which aims to raise awareness about food justice issues and the environmental impact of our food system. While this campaign is focused on engaging Canadians in a critical discourse on the state of food production, it also hopes to garner public support for an amendment to the Canadian constitution, which would add the “right to a healthy environment.”

David Suzuki discusses the state of Canada's food supply with York faculty, students and staff
David Suzuki discusses the state of Canada’s food supply with York faculty, students and staff

The panel’s talk, orchestrated by the National Film Board of Canada, the David Suzuki Foundation and Humber College, where the discussion took place, was staged as both a live event and an online “virtual classroom,” and reached over 6,000 high school and university students across Canada. At York, an attentive and engaged group of more than 75 students, faculty and community members gathered to participate in the Canada-wide conversation.

The panel discussion was kicked off by Tanya Davis, former Halifax poet laureate, who performed a poem titled, “Water Flows,” reminding the audience of the interconnectivity that exists among people and the environment through water.

After an opening address from each of the panellists in which Suzuki recalled our once intimate connections with local ecosystems, Sawyers encouraged community building through urban farming and food literacy, and MacKinnon praised the locavore gospel, the conversation began. Students in attendance at Humber and in the “virtual classroom” were encouraged to provide questions for the panel to deliberate. York University’s James Arruda posed a compelling question concerning the role that indigenous food systems might have in the larger Canadian context.

What followed was an impassioned conversation of the state of the Canadian food system, its history, injustices and future. Each of the panellists encouraged students to think critically of their consumption. For Suzuki, our hubris towards the genetic manipulation of our foods and its consequences was certainly a salient problem. Genetic manipulation, he suggested at one point, is analogous to taking Mick Jagger out of the Rolling Stones and putting him in the New York Philharmonic: “We know he’ll make sound but we don’t know what it’ll be.” MacKinnon adamantly suggested throughout the discussion that eating locally was not only possible, but also easy. And in perhaps the most encouraging and moving moment of the day, Sawyers reminded the audience to never forget their power to change the world.

FES Dean Noël Sturgeon at the event
FES Dean Noël Sturgeon at the event

Closing the talk, Davis, once again, in a poem written specifically for the event, reminded us of our interconnectedness. “Together we are a web that everyone is tethered to.”

Following the event, a large amount of the York cohort remained to discuss the panel. The group at York was stirred by the conversation and, while many seemed to have enjoyed the MacKinnon-Sawyers-Suzuki discussion, many questions remained unanswered. Particularly, questions were raised by the community about what was left out of the conversation: issues of inclusiveness in MacKinnon’s locavore doctrine, issues of food equity, as well as difficult political entanglements, such as migrant workers, which remained un-critiqued.

While the event proved to be a thought-provoking discussion, it remains just the beginning of a much larger conversation.

By Dylan McMahon, Faculty of Environmental Studies graduate assistant