Nick Saul and Andrea Curtis
It’s so easy to be a naysayer, especially when it comes to social movements. I was reminded of that when a friend and I were talking about South Africa recently. He was saying that not much has changed there and I disagreed, saying that solid integration seemed to have happened in the professional classes but that the majority of poor Africans were still trapped in circumstances that were really very miserable.
But sometimes events or people come along that give you hope, and that hope is on many pages of a new book by Nick Saul titled The Stop: How the Fight for Good Food Transformed a Community and Inspired a Movement.
Ironically, Saul spent his early years in a number of African countries, where his parents were best friends with anti-apartheid activists Ruth First and Joe Slovo. His parents are still active in social justice movements. In 1998 Saul became executive director of a Toronto urban food bank called The Stop. Unfortunately, food banks have become important for so many people, but from Saul’s perspective his food bank and many others were often housed in substandard places and filled with dented cans and macaroni. His book follows the transformation of The Stop from a place where the people who used it had very little access to the fresh food that we value so much, and which is so important to our health, to a vibrant, dialogue-based community centre where courses on maternal health, gardening, and cooking have changed lives. The Stop is such a great example to the many naysayers among us.
In The Stop we follow Nick around through all of his struggles, and they are many. The fact that he was obsessed with a vision for change and that this vision included dialogue with users, staff, volunteers, funders, and a board of directors shows how much social capital he has. That’s a lot of different people under the umbrella. Change is much more difficult when the people involved are personally invested. Egos often clash. And yet personal investment is quite often what makes something great. The book is full of examples, but to give just one illustration of the pain in change, Saul describes a conflict with a long-time volunteer. For many years this lovely man went around to restaurants and food stores and gathered up end-of-the-day stuff that would be thrown out. When Saul described the change that he envisioned where volunteers, users, and staff of The Stop would be growing their own food, the volunteer became very upset and threatened. He felt unappreciated and stopped coming for a while, but did eventually come back.
Nick Saul will be speaking in Guelph at Hope House on Monday, June 24 at 7:00 p.m. Do not miss this evening. You will hear more about the push back from traditional food banks, his struggle with corporate donations, his continuous inner dialogue (you can’t allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good), and further tales of all of the wonderful people who have created a sustainable, lively, and loved institution. I’m really looking forward to the evening. Tickets are $5 or pay what you can and are available through The Guelph Neighborhood Support Coalition and at The Bookshelf.