Since 2009, the Sustenance Festival has served Vancouver as a platform for community groups, artists, and social service organizations to celebrate and push the boundaries of food innovation in our city.  The festival planning committee maintains a deep commitment to reflecting on, and responding to, global trends and current issues impacting the everyday intersections of Vancouver’s food systems with its people.

Sustenance Festival 2009 Opening Night featuring Khapaga by Michelle Kambolis
Sustenance Festival 2009 opening night featuring Khapaga by Michelle Kambolis

After years of organizing this annual festival, feedback from partners and participants expressed the sense that certain voices were not being heard or represented in this festival platform. In order to address this gap, the planning committee engaged in a research phase (2016-2017) in order to dig deeper into issues of equity, justice, and the underrepresented peoples of what has been commonly referred to as the “food movement.”[1] The committee contracted a community developer to initiate a “listening campaign” and relationship-building effort with marginalized groups, with a focus on reaching grassroots leaders working through food in their respective communities.[3]

Wild Salmon Caravan – Photo by Murray Bush


Based on the 2017 research, a small Community Fund was created to support the work of grassroots groups who had not previously been involved with the festival. A Sustenance Intercultural Advisory Committee was formed to envision and advise on the festival and its related activities. This Committee is comprised of community leaders willing to share their insights into exclusion in the food movement, especially perspectives informed by lived experience of marginalization and resistance.

Looking Forward

The Sustenance Festival is ready once again to embark on a more ‘inclusive’ experience and build upon relationships and concepts developed through the research phase. A new partnership and planning table has emerged which includes representatives of several Neighbourhood Houses, Vancouver Park Board, Vancouver Food Policy Council, and non-profit organizations such as the Hua Foundation. This table brings together the Sustenance Festival concept with the legacy of the Vancouver Food Summit (est. 2016) around shared themes of celebration, inclusion, anti-oppression and decoloniality in food systems. This partnership recognizes that both the Sustenance Festival and Summit are currently under-resourced, but through our “connectedness of purpose” and shared values, we can continue advance justice-oriented food conversations.


Wild Salmon Caravan – Photo by Murray Bush

We are committed to working together towards greater awareness, and realizing a vision of justice in Vancouver’s food landscape. It is a future vision that foregrounds and uplifts the cross-pollination of cultures, food, and art. It affects our communities in deeply personal and political ways — ultimately feeding providing sustenance for a healthy community in the present and for the future.

The 2018 Sustenance Festival will act as an umbrella for “food conversations” (workshops, panel discussions, dialogue circles, food celebrations) independently organized by our many partner organizations from September 22-November 22, 2018. These events and initiatives will share broad thematic linkages, but will express the unique character and mandate of the organizing partners.

[1] Food movement is an umbrella term describing the growing popular response to the social and material consequences of globalized and industrial food systems. Action typically centres on consuming local and organic food. Thus, participation has tended to emphasize “voting with your fork” or growing your own food. Sustenance Festival recognizes that there are many ways to engage with the food system that may or may not fall into this framework.

[2] Short background video