Foodshare Toronto’s Debbie Field encourages grads to embrace the unknown

Debbie Field of Foodshare, Toronto
Debbie Field
Debbie Field of Foodshare, Toronto
Debbie Field

One only has to look back on their lives to understand that predicting the future is impossible, yet full of opportunity.

This is the theme that Faculty of Health graduands were asked to embrace during the first of 13 Spring Convocation ceremonies at York University on June 17 when Debbie Field, executive director of FoodShare Toronto and honorary doctor of laws degree recipient, addressed students graduating in psychology.

“I’d like you to think back to where you were 10 years ago and I’m sure very, very few of you could have imaged you’d be sitting here or would have graduated in the degree that you have,” she said.

“It’s absolutely impossible for you to predict where you are going to be in 10, 20, 30 or 40 years… and it’s very hard to know how all the things you’ve learned are going to come together for you to make your life what you want it to be.”

Field, who for the last 24 years has been at the helm of FoodShare, shared with grads her background and her own unpredictable path. After graduating from Trent University in 1974, she started but did not complete a masters degree at York in social and political thought.

“I dropped out, and here I am receiving an honorary degree,” she said. “Imagine that, imagine the changes that means for you.”

Likening her career path to a river, she encouraged graduates to embrace their own lives as a journey where each experience will open up more experiences – and that when faced with a “brick wall” – not to see it as a failure.

Field also suggested during that journey we make choices and students who selected a program focused on psychology and human psychology have made a wise choice knowing that their work can help improve the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and neighbourhoods.

“Increasingly, our society sees health and health promotion as amongst the most important paradigms,” she said, adding that her experience with FoodShare has highlighted the significance for change with respect to how food addresses health.

“In the 25 years I’ve been at FoodShare our ideas of how food was integral to health – which were laughed about 25 years ago – are now considered a central theme of health everywhere.”

From left, Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Debbie Field and York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri
From left, Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Debbie Field and York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

Food, she said, is one of those complicated issues of the future – one billion people will go to sleep hungry,  1.2 billion will go to sleep malnourished and farmers across the world face financial and environmental unsustainability.

We live in a world in which there is more than enough food to feed everyone and in Canada we pride ourselves on our publicly funded health care system, and celebrate public education, public transit, and public housing, she said.

“Isn’t it maybe time that we begin to think about a publicly funded, supported food system?”

FoodShare, and groups like FoodShare, are trying to find ways to address these big problems, such as localizing our food system and prioritizing the production of healthy food.

Field shared that part of that effort has been realized through a partnership established with York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies in the late 1990s, where students have participated in FoodShare programs over the years.

Here at York, she said, the Maloca Community Garden is a symbol of the change that is happening.

Sometimes, she said, change seems abstract and unattainable… and yet people coming together can often move mountains.

“As you look towards your life, be kind to yourself, try to balance a great vision with reality, take jobs that are not in your career path if that’s all you’ve got as an option,” said Field, “and, be calm and relaxed knowing you have been very well prepared today for an excellent life.”

York’s 2016 spring convocation ceremonies are streamed live and then archived online. Field’s convocation address will be archived at the conclusion of spring convocation ceremonies. To view her address, visit the Convocation webcast archive.