The Gordon Neighbourhood House has made it their mission to expand the conversations around food in Vancouver. Last Thursday at Heartwood Community Café, the questions “What’s With the Ethnic Aisle?” and “Why is the Food Movement so White?” were thrown to an impressive panel of Vancouver food advocates who had no shortage of things to say about the supposed lack of diversity in the food movement.
I say “supposed lack of diversity” because all of the members of the panel answered emphatically that the food movement is not white. It is rather the consumption based ethics of the mainstream environmental food activism which excludes many people of colour. This movement is often quiet about inequality, migrant workers, food sovereignty, cultural appropriation, and many of the other issues we face to build a more just food system.
It’s capitalist logic that tells us that buying expensive organic produce from a farmers market will save the planet, but doesn’t examine the reasons why that food is inaccessible to many or what impact corporate farming has had on many small farmers, both those who have immigrated and those who are born in Canada.
I spoke with Stephanie Lim of the Greater Vancouver Food Bank and Vancouver Food Council afterwards who was clear that part of the problem is the lack of food education in our public system. Lim said that many of the young people who they have spoken to had seen some of the larger environmental films, like Cowspiracy, but that the moral focus of these documentaries made the barriers for ethical eating too high for kids who might come from various backgrounds, and may not have the know-how or opportunity to cook for themselves. It’s good that there’s focus on the environmental impact, but it can shut out so much of the conversation when it’s centered on the morality of “eating green.”
Food security and food justice will continue to be a large challenge facing our future, so we will have to start by thinking about what we can do in the educational system and what we can do at home. Moderator Lily Grewal emphasized how important it is to know the stories of the foods which make it to our homes. Just learning about the series of hands that has touched one of the foods we eat is a start, because we can then share those stories with our communities.
Thanks to one of the spaces that focused on having food conversations, Heartwood Community Café, which will be closing its doors in August. Look out for more programing from The Gordon Neighbourhood House in the coming months.
It occurs to us (because we’re not oblivious) that there is a wealth of
cultural and media production in this city that fits with our mandate: Know
the media, be the media, change the media. Our small team want to grow to
provide space for more kinds of work to be included in Media Democracy
Days’ programming in the future, as well as ensure that we’re paying
attention to the excellent and wide-ranging voices of activists, artists,
and creators that work in the lower mainland.
If you’ve taken note over the last few months, we’ve been using this newsletter to promote some of our favourite happenings in the city, reflect on our community’s impact, and understand what it means to participate in democratic media.
In trying to keep true to our word, we’ve been working on changes to our annual conference, Media Democracy Days, that will make it a more community-focused event; but what exactly does that entail?
I attended the Community Arts Council of Vancouver’s Community Arts Unconference last week. Participants included recipients of their Community Arts Fund programming, including Hooker Monologues, Vancouver Moving Theatre, the Chinese Cultural Centre of Vancouver and more, who all shared their experiences from planning community arts projects. The most distinctive thing about being in a room with this group of people was the constant reiteration of values included in all forms of problem solving. It provided a space where help and advice, from hiring technicians to grant writing, was shared freely, with a constant emphasis on active listening, inclusivity, and mutual respect.
The best planning starts with getting together to take an inventory of what a community has, and what people can share. It’s a way to ask what we can do to build capacity and use the skills and experience that already exists to make something better.
Some of our other partners who have taken community development to heart in the form of civic engagement are OpenMedia, who have recently shared their vision and values for crowdsourcing, which you can find here. OpenMedia’s focus have been on ensuring that their work is directed by their community’s needs, and that the opinions and voices of those wanting a more democratic media system are valued and respected.
The program for Media Democracy Days will be a work in progress; it will grow and change with time. We look forward to seeing what works and what doesn’t, and we hope you join us because we’re going to need your input! Look out for more information coming soon.
So what exactly does a comedy show about rape look like?
This year, local comedians Emma Cooper and Heather Jordan Ross managed to repeatedly sell out East Vancouver venues for their production Rape is Real and Everywhere, featuring comedians who are also survivors of sexual assault. If that sounds unlikely, you can be sure that there are a wealth of locals, like myself, who were excited at the prospect of going to a comedy show where we wouldn’t have to cringe at self-excusing comics deploying oppressive stereotypes for clichéd punchlines.
Rape is Real was just as I had hoped it would be: actually funny. The show is balance between jokes that “punched up,” reflections on the culture and legal system that allow so many survivors to go without justice, and personal stories that were nothing except brutally honest. For some of the comics, the difficulty of telling these stories was palpable, but the crowd provided claps, cheers, and kind words to help everyone through their sets. If being part of a supportive atmosphere contributed in any way to personal healing, then it was well worth the ticket price.
But can comedy make an impact as a political tool? Comedy in comparison to other kinds of storytelling is an insider/outsider artform. Punchlines need to be relatable to land.
It was no surprise that the vast majority of hands in the audience went up when Cooper asked at the beginning of the show if anyone was a survivor of sexual assault (and that no hands went up when she asked who in the audience was a rapist). The overwhelming response in Vancouver is telling us something about this specific conversation. Can many comedy shows with such a “narrow” focus take off so quickly?
In an interview with VICE, Ross says “I have this joke where I say: “I always hear from guys, they say, ‘If you can tell a murder joke, you can tell a rape joke, right?’ And my response is always, ‘I don’t know if one in three men in this room have been—murdered.’ I think we’re talking about something a little different here.”
Rape is Real and Everywhere has kicked off its national tour, and is by now heading east from Ottawa. The show will include local comics from each stop, all with stories of their own to tell and laugh about. Finding and knowing that this community exists, has similar struggles, and is willing to talk about it, can make all the difference.
What roles can different kinds of media take in fueling the public outrage necessary to create change?
It’s DOXA season again, and included in the documentary film festival’s selection this year is We Call Them Intruders, by local filmmakers Tamara Herman and Susi Porter-Bopp. The film was an entry point into the terrifying global impact of Canadian mines, as well as the actions Canadians can take to improve the situation.
We Call Them Intruders smartly steers away from discussing the implications of consumer demand, and also largely ignores human rights violations by Canadian mines on workers. Instead the film focuses on the economic impact the mines have had on the communities they are situated in. The filmmakers traveled to communities in Tanzania and Zambia in which many persons’ livelihoods have been displaced by Canadian mines. Meanwhile, little of the money made on their land has stayed in these countries to benefit its citizens, despite the continued promises made by these mines and local governments.
It’s a stripped down but focused version of global mineral extraction, digestible for younger students, but also fitting for Herman and Porter-Bopp’s distribution plans. The film speaks in simple but direct terms to the place of Canadian investments, pensions, and taxes in supporting the mining industry.
Their plan is to target schools and pension and investment groups with the film, which calls for divestment and local activism. We Call Them Intruders avoids placing blame on individuals, with the exception of the most obvious of Canadian villains, Stephen Harper. The filmmakers were quick to note in a Q&A following the screening that they did not expect our current government to do any better in promoting socially conscious mining practices internationally.
This was a stark contrast to the framework placed around mining in Dr. Alessandra Santos’ (from UBC’s Dept of French, Hispanic, and Italian Studies) lecture for The Vancouver Institute for Social Research, called “Dust, Media, and Invisible Materiality.” In Dr. Santos’ lecture, dust was the invisible evidence of our global production system, living in the bodies of mining labourers, and coming off of the technology in our pockets. In one of her examples, Dr. Santos uses the video game Phone Story, made for Apple and Android, in which you play a manager at a mine with the goal of preventing the suicides of labourers.
Santos asked the audience if that made the game makers hypocrites? Using a medium which utilizes the minerals mined by companies known for these kinds of working conditions? I’d wager that the game makers intended on exposing potential players to be hypocrites. The weapon employed here is pure shock, and can have just the opposite effect of We Call Them Intruders. Rather than feel empowered, it was hard to listen to the lecture and not feel paralysed.
For a narrative to make an impact on global social responsibility, we have to see the connections between our actions and their consequences in both the place we occupy in promoting and continuing global industries that degrade human and ecological rights, and the activism we can do to improve or stop these industries. But where exactly is the place to hold individuals accountable? What space do we leave for the discomfort caused by our complacency in participating in destructive global markets? How can media give us the outrage necessary to make change?
DOXA continues at different venues in Vancouver until May 15th. You can catch the remaining lectures in the Vancouver Institute for Social Research’s Spring Term, themed “Fantasy, Ideology, Media,” on Monday evenings at 7 PM at Or Gallery.
Outside the Vancouver offices of Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada (INAC) yesterday, a press conference was held in the name of victory: the achievement of the Council of Mothers to obtain a promise of a meeting with Indigenous Affairs Minister Carolyn Bennett and Minister of Canadian Heritage Mélanie Joly.
Speaker at the press conference, Jerilyn Webster, stressed that the meeting with government officials was a “meeting of action,” and that there are no excuses for it to be simply lip service. She, along with many voices from Indigenous communities across British Columbia, have created a solution based package to present to the government about their own recommendations for how to help their communities.
“It’s is not an abstract thing we are asking for,” Webster made clear that the Council of Mothers’ goal is to: “push and prioritize youth, culture, and language.” Their communities are unique, but they are facing the same chronic underfunding of their languages, and cultures, while the Canadian government holds the responsibility of destroying the structures and support for these languages and culture for generations.
To accomplish this, Indigenous women and children making up the Council of Mothers, occupied an INAC office in Vancouver in solidarity with Attawapiskat for six days. The response to the suicide crisis in Attawapiskat has highlighted many of the problems with the ways the Canadian Government and the media chooses to aide communities. Members of Indigenous communities across Canada started #OccupyINAC to take action, not only on behalf of their kindred struggles with the projects of colonialism, but to ensure that each community’s needs be listened to in order to address their unique situations.
Which brings me to how unique some of the reporting and editorial has been after Attawapiskat declared a mental health emergency on April 9th. There has indeed been a media focus on the projects and strength from within the community (see here and here), along with many personal pieces and thoughtful considerations of the injustices facing Attawapiskat (here and here) that combat the destructive narrative (posed by mostly white men) stating that people Attawapiskat should leave their home. The former coverage has been surprising and encouraging, but we should make note that there should be no critical mass of crises in Indigenous communities for us to see this kind of work. This is not the only community to declare a mental health emergency this year, and living in crisis is not new to Attawapiskat.
How we respond to issues within these communities is in need of serious media analysis. The media must make an effort, to connect the stories without losing the unique identity of each of these communities.
And while we must commend the work of the individuals taking part in #OccupyINAC and demanding that their voices be heard, we also should work to ensure that their stories remain newsworthy, and always result in action.