Guest Lecture: Food Metrics 3.0 – Unearthing Hidden Data

Thursday, March 14th, 2019
7:00pm – 9:00pm
Balsillie School of International Affairs

Since 2011, the New York City’s Mayor’s Office of Food Policy has released a Food Metrics Report which provides a snapshot of data from across City agencies on food-related programming and trends. The report has expanded every year to include the broad range of programs and initiatives that the City is doing to address food insecurity; improve City food procurement and food service, increase healthy food access and awareness, and support a more sustainable and just food system. In a review of New York City’s 2018 Food Metrics Report, Dr. Nevin Cohen and his team at the CUNY Urban Food Policy Institute, identified a number of food metrics that would deepen our understanding of the food system and yet are often overlooked. These hidden food metrics—data which is collected by city agencies but often buried in low-profile documents—could be used by interested citizens, policymakers, and advocates to monitor important aspects of the food system, lobby for new resources, support effective initiatives, and design and implement complementary programs.In this talk, Cohen will discuss these hidden food metrics and what they can tell us about the food system.

The talk will be followed by a Q&A with Barbara Emanuel from the Toronto Public Health’s Toronto Food Strategy. 

Registration is required.

A reception with light refreshments will follow talk.

About the speaker

Nevin Cohen is Associate Professor at the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health, and Research Director of CUNY’s Urban Food Policy Institute. His scholarship explores the policies, governance systems, practices, and infrastructure to support socially just, healthy, ecologically resilient, and economically viable urban and regional food systems.

Current projects include a five-country analysis of urban agriculture, research on food retail access; a study of the intersections of zoning, planning, and food gentrification; the effects of social equity policies on food systems; and an evaluation of the effects of urban farms in New York City Housing Authority developments. Dr. Cohen is the co-author of a recently published book, Beyond the Kale: urban agriculture and social justice activism in New York City (University of GA Press) that examines the potential of urban farms and gardens to address racial, gender, and class oppression. He has a PhD in Urban Planning and Policy Development from Rutgers University, a master’s in city and Regional Planning from Berkeley, and a BA from Cornell.

About the moderator

Barbara Emanuel is the Manager of the Toronto Food Strategy. Led by Toronto Public Health, the strategy proposes a new vision for Toronto’s food – one that integrates health and city building. The intent is to build food connections across and within city divisions, between city government and community and between multiple food system stakeholders, with the goal of a healthy and sustainable food system for all. The food strategy builds on the strong foundation of the Toronto Food Policy Council which has operated for more than 27 years. 

Prior to her work on the food strategy, Barbara was the Strategic Policy Advisor to the Medical Officer of Health for Toronto where she worked on a range of local and global public health and environmental issues including food and nutrition. Barbara has worked for the City of Toronto for over 25 years in a variety of policy and strategic issues roles. 

Before working for the City of Toronto, Barbara worked at the Development Education Centre, an adult education resource centre dedicated to international development and capacity building issues.

Unable to attend in-person? Register to be notified when the video recording of the event has been made available.

New national report card provides comprehensive snapshot of the sustainability of Canada’s food systems


WATERLOO – Researchers at Wilfrid Laurier University, Lakehead University and the University of Toronto have taken a first step toward producing a comprehensive report card on the sustainability of Canada’s food systems. Their new report, “Food Counts: A Pan-Canadian Sustainable Food Systems Report Card,” brings together 61 existing measures of social, environmental, and economic well-being to examine food systems at the national level. Unlike existing food systems report cards, which focus on isolated perspectives such as economic productivity or individual health outcomes, Food Counts builds on existing efforts to create an integrative set of measurements to assess whole food systems, taking a range of relevant factors into account, from ecological, economic, health, labour, and educational points of view. There are plans to update it regularly to track trends.

“The Food Counts report card highlights the limitations of existing indicators and the need to reassess the way we approach and advocate for social justice, ecological regeneration, regional economies and active democratic engagement,” said Charles Levkoe, Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems and an assistant professor at Lakehead University. “There is a lot more research needed to understand the path towards sustainable food futures and this report card is a vital step in that direction.”

Some areas where Canada is doing well, from a social justice point of view, include that agricultural wages are going up while fatalities among farm workers are going down. More farms are using water conservation measures and more households are composting.

Areas where Canada is not doing as well include that fruit and vegetable consumption is going down and is lower than average among Indigenous peoples. A set basket of food is becoming more expensive and household food insecurity is going up, with food bank use also on the rise. There are fewer, older farmers on fewer, larger farms and they are in greater debt. Farmers are using more chemical fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides, and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions are going up.

“Developing sustainable food systems is complicated,” said Alison Blay-Palmer, director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair in Sustainable Food Systems and an associate professor at Laurier and the Balsillie School of International Affairs. “We need to think about how our food is grown or harvested, who has access to healthy food, and how these things impact our environment and local economies. This report card helps us understand where we are doing well, where we can improve, and where we need more information.”

The report was produced with funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada by the FLEdGE (Food: Locally Embedded, Globally Engaged) research and knowledge-sharing partnership, which is hosted at Laurier. The report can be accessed online at Twitter: #FoodCounts.


Charles Levkoe, Assistant Professor Canada Research Chair in Sustainable Food Systems Lakehead University 647-633-7447 or

Alison Blay-Palmer, Associate Professor Centre for International Governance Innovation Chair in Sustainable Food Systems Wilfrid Laurier University