Wayne Roberts’ Secret Retirement Recipe for Successful Food Policy Councils

The following remarks were delivered by Wayne at a June 29 party of 130 people celebrating his ten years with the Toronto Food Policy Council and Toronto Public Health.

Liz Janzen, the recently retired director of Toronto Public Health, who did so much to champion the Toronto Food Policy Council and many other bold initiatives, offers private lessons on how to avoid humiliating yourself by crying at public gatherings. As a consequence, I am taking the unusual step of reading from prepared notes.

Many people over the years have told me I am finished, but now I get to make the call that one phase of my life is finished. Managing the Toronto Food Policy Council requires an ability to keep a lot of balls in the air, and there comes a time when that gets very hard on the brain, which means it’s time to shift to work that builds on other portions of the brain, Demarcus Lawrence Youth Jersey some of which may even work better than ever. As men get older, they lose hair on the top of their heads, for example, but more than make up for it by hair gains in their nose, ear and back. And that is my expectation of retirement, or what is more properly called repurposing. More brain, likely in the wrong places. Also, more repurposing than retirement.

I was lucky enough to have a front-row seat on the rise of the modern food movement. While I fully acknowledge that the times and conditions have to be right for social movements to flourish, it seems fitting at this time, after the traumatic divisiveness created by some government organizations around the G8/20 summit, to share the secret family recipe I followed. I think it helped the food policy council and food movement succeed, and I hope it prevails over the competing recipe, which many are pushing in the wake of the summit fiasco.

First, we need to love our city, just like we need to love our neighbor and neighborhoods – not because you think like, or look like, your neighbors, but because “you belong here,” as Toronto’s wonderful slogan has it. We are not about utopia, which is literally no-place. We have to learn to love our place if we are ever to put power in its place.

We need to find our city’s ordinariness lovable. It is an acquired taste, but if you give it time you will find the view of “a city of villages” as magnificent as the views of a city with mountains, ocean beaches and waterfalls. The sheer humbleness of food, not its exquisiteness, makes it such a powerful tool for bringing out the best in people, which is why the section of Toronto’s new food strategy, Cultivating Food Connections, features the growing of food-friendly neighborhoods.

We have to appreciate the level of public service this city brings out, with board of education trustees like Fiona Nelson and Bob Spencer and City Councilors like Gord Perks, Joe Mihevc, Pam McConnell, Janet Davis, Shelley Carroll, Jack Layton and Olivia Chow who have provided real leadership. They are a diverse group, and you won’t find their equal in any other city. We do not join in with the naysayers, the angry cynics or politician bashers. We Demarcus Lawrence Kids Jersey remain supporters of people in public service who are doing their best: because if you don’t know what to be thankful for, and if you don’t know when a glass is half full rather than half-empty, then you’re not really cut out for food policy and actionism.

We need to admire the commitment to public service by City staff. In 2001 and 2001, when the Food and Hunger Action Committee developed the newly-amalgamated city’s vision of food, we made it a partnership of staff, community groups and councilors and committed ourselves to find a three-way consensus – so we will rise together, not over one another. I am proud to have worked for government as a civil servant committed to civil society, and I believe the public service from the likes of David McKeown, Barbara Emanuel, Carol Timmings, Brian Cook, Peter Dorfman, Yusuf Alam, Mary-Anne McBean, Leslie Toy, Safoura Moazami, Solomon Boye, Julian Hasford, Susan Shepherd, Gaetana Schaefer, Adele Bonofiglio, Agnes Hildebrandt – to name just people who worked on the food strategy or the Keep Wayne Out of Trouble Demarcus Lawrence Jersey Brigade – deserves citizens’ respect and gratitude.

We must feel passion and fire in the belly, to do this work. But above all, we must bring positive energy, good will and a commitment to workable solutions. When I started here, I had the great fortune to find in a second-hand bookstore a copy of Gandhi’s lecture to the people who would join him to launch the movement for Indian independence from Britain; they later walked across the country to build the boycott against the British salt tax and to rediscover their birthright from the commons — free salt from the ocean. You cannot join unless you love the British and what is best in them, Gandhi said, and I think he insisted on this because he knew you cannot build a liberating movement that is based on anger or hate or divisiveness. Gandhi’s lecture is what allowed me to work here fairly productively and quite happily for ten years.

As a person who never embraced formal religion, I surprised myself late one evening in March 2008, when, at 3:00 in the morning after way too many pots of coffee, I came to write my very last overdue paragraph on my dead-dead deadline for The No-Nonsense Guide to World Food. A phrase I had long mocked popped into my head: Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth. I used to think this was about pacifying the poor so they would divert their attention to the next world where they would get pie in the sky when they die. But suddenly, its profound radicalism hit me.

At the most direct level, we work to bring the right of food to all and to ensure that it is shared with children, newcomers, the poor and homeless. But beyond that, we work with food because food is not about human power and triumph and glory, but about our humble animal needs that make us vulnerable and dependent on nature and make us vulnerable and interdependent with one another. That is how we humans are made – other than Vitamin D processed in our skin, our large brains leave no space for body parts that manufacture a wide range of nutrients from a few simple wild grasses and tree leaves; we can only get the nutrients we need from a wide range of foods, all of which come from outside ourselves. And, zenlike, that very need and vulnerability have been the source and inner strength of human achievement, culture and sociability. This baseline of our creation is the reason why I believe that the food movement must be militantly joyful and radically meek – not radical chic, but radical meek.

That is why I asked that the proceeds from tonight go to a baking oven at the historic Montgomery Inn, where many escaped slaves came to work when they took the famous “underground railway” and fled to freedom in Canada. The baking oven celebrates our need for one another and the warm and positive energy we can share when we work together to meet our common needs.

A gift to Montgomery Inn also lets me thank Janice Etter, citizen chair of the Toronto Food Policy Council and of the citizen board overseeing Montgomery Inn. She is the very model of an engaged citizen who donates deep knowledge and caring as well as hard work for good causes. Together, we will keep the fires of baking ovens and other community technologies burning.


  1. Wayne, I’m sorry I missed your parties. I was thrilled to read your speech. I especially love this phrase: “the food movement must be militantly joyful and radically meek”. I’ll credit you when I circulate that. You’re lovely. Thanks for moving the food movement light years forward. Best wishes in your new chapter, growing your right brain and your back hair. :)

  2. Lynne Markell says:

    Hi Wayne, Congratulations and thanks for your passionate work on food issues. I loved your insight and the ideas you shared. I hope you have fun in your “repurposing” and the new activities you choose to do in the next phase.

    There is still lots to do and I will keep pushing the co-op model as one of the best ways to organize for control and business efficiency in the food sector.


  3. Mena Paternostro says:

    Congratulations Wayne!
    Thank you for making a strong connection to Student Nutrition. The Food Policy with your guidance and support was able to champion the cause when needed for all Toronto students so that no child would be hungry in school. You said it best “this work needs passion and fire in the belly”. Sorry I could not share in your celebrations but know that you will always have my respect for making food a right! Good luck developing more secret family recipes.


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