Hello and welcome to Righting Our Relations with food, a podcast series where we meet with guests from across the country to discuss food security and food sovereignty, and where we can make changes to our food systems with a focus on Canada. Righting Relations is a national network of adult educators and community organizers working for radical social change, and this series is part of a larger project on food sovereignty and the sustainability development goals. So if you're interested in learning more, please check out our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram. My guest today is Brianna Kroener. Brianna is a co founder and organizer of the Regina Cathedral Community Fridge. The Cathedral Community Fridge opened in April 2021, the second of the four community fridges in Regina. Brianna is a Red Seal chef by trade, who has been interested in mutual aid and community fridges for her entire adult life. She describes community fridges as a way to address food insecurity that emphasizes integrity, dignity and solidarity over charity. Brianna, it's so great to get to chat with you. Thank you for being here today. And so I'm just curious to know, so what inspired you to start the community fridge, and what is it?
I had been wanting to start a community fridge for a really long time, I just couldn't quite justify the workload at that time in my life. I had been working within food insecurity for a couple of years prior to that my partner and I were just doing it independently, we would go door to door and collect donations within our community. And then we would redistribute those food items to people that were in need at that time. I'm also a red seal chef by trade. So I've been working within the food industry for a really long time. And I've been seeing the direct effects of food insecurity within the industry as a worker as well as within the clientele and the decrease of that over the years. So I wanted to start the community fridge because I thought that it was a very good idea to have a centralized, autonomous and democratic means of addressing food insecurity in our neighborhood. And I think that every neighborhood should have a community fridge and I think that everybody should have free access to food for free forever without question. And what a community fridges is, a community fridge is a type of free store free stores have existed since about the 50s or 60s, free stores have really existed when, while since there was an inadequacy in in resources being distributed to certain people, especially regarding classes, you know, certain classes of individuals not having access to resources, so those people would come together and figure out ways to nurture those needs. So community fridges are one of the ways that we nurture the needs of food insecurity within our neighborhood. So they are a 100% Autonomous, 100% democratic means of the community coming together and helping to provide what we need to survive by supplying surplus goods. Whether it's its hands on, hands on stuff, like cleaning the fridge or helping to unload things or just spending time at the fridge and bringing the humanity back to nurturing the needs and the inadequacies in the system. The fridges are usually freestanding, outdoors quite often they have a insulated structure around them similar to a small house or a small shed, they have a little pantry space quite often as well as well as a freezer, a garbage can, you know, things that you need and in a food safe area for it to be food, food safe and food friendly.
So do you have someone monitoring that?
The community runs it 100%. So there's not one single person that's in charge of the operations or monitoring it. So the reason why the community is able to take responsibility for the collective healing is because we all have taken it upon ourselves to put our efforts towards looking after the fridge. So the community looks after the fridge, the community uses the fridge and the community makes sure that this resource is safe and be treated well at all times.
Oh, wow. So it's been a community effort. And so, like, what has been the response when you first started?
The response has been interesting, especially in the prairies of Canada, because mutual aid organizing and direct action and, and more leftist ideas are very difficult to come by here in Canada. And they're also very difficult to utilize because society in general is so accustomed to a very hands off approach to providing solutions for inadequacies in the system. And and because of that we are very used to the charity mentality. So we don't really know the difference between solidarity and charity. So it's been quite difficult allowing people to take ownership of this resource because quite often people that are in need are so used to having a hierarchical system where the food or the shelter or any other means of survival are being handed to them from a, from somebody from above, right. Whereas this is a community coming together to share on equal ground, right? We are 100% democratic, nothing happens at that fridge without consulting that community, you know. So the response has been a little bit difficult just trying to kind of coax people into like, yes, you can look after the fridge, you can fill it whenever you want. You can clean it whenever you want, you can do whatever you want to do take ownership of that fridge.
Oh, wow. So basically, anyone in the community could just go in there and donate the food.
Yeah, absolutely. It's totally free use, it operates off of mutual aid. So providing what we can if we can, and taking what you need when you need it. Okay, usually, it's a symbiotic relationship really.
Yeah, can you just describe quickly describe what mutual aid is for some of the viewers that don't know what that is?
Yeah, for sure. So mutual aid is the idea that when a community or a group of people or, or even a small group of people have some sort of issue, whether it's an inadequacy within their food supply, or there's a lack of housing, or there's a lack of education, or there's a lack of childcare, or there's a lack of security within that community, the community or that group comes together to find the solution for one another. And to help provide those solutions for each other without the expectation of a profit motive behind it or appeasing a CEO of a company or with a board of directors telling everybody who's going to get what and how they're going to get it. It's up to the community, or that group of people that is facing an inadequacy to come together, pool their resources, and try and fight for the liberation of the freedom involved with finding what we need to survive, whether it's food, shelter, or other things. And mutual aid just operates off of the basis that it's the right thing to do. Mutual aid is a factor in evolution, you know, just like how the bee pollinates the flower and the flower helps that'd be to distribute its its goods to its space. It's kind of a very similar thing within our community, or within any community operating and mutual aid.
Like you mentioned this, that there was a distinction between the charity model and the charity and solidarity. Yeah, charity, and solidarity, like what is the distinction?
So, okay, charity kind of really originated out of the government structures existing taking over those organizations. So for example, the food bank was never a charity, the food bank originated through socialistic ideas, the food bank came out of people needing food, finding a way to feed each other. And then the government structures that existed when they did came in and said, Okay, we're going to regulate this, we're going to pay people to work here, but only a couple the rest of volunteers, they don't get paid, don't worry about them, we're going to have a board of directors that tell everybody who gets what and how much they get, you know, we're going to implement means testing. So you have to have a job, you have to live somewhere, you have to have an ID, you have to have an ability to get to the food bank to get that food, you have to have storage for that food, you know, putting in different things to make it more difficult for people to survive. So so things like charity, are quite different than solidarity, where solidarity is when we the people come together and say we need to be there for each other. And we need to find the solutions to survive together in harmony with Mother Nature and in harmony with one another and keeping in mind our goals in the future and living in a life giving way. Instead of appealing to corporate interests. And instead of appealing to a board of directors. And instead of taking away the autonomy and the choice that the individual needs to have when they're trying to survive. We give that choice back to the people by saying okay, you have control and autonomy over your resources. Now we're going to care for those resources and make sure that they never go away. Because we're standing in solidarity with each other. We're not handing things down a chain.
Yeah. So it kind of just kind of brings me to my next question then, like, which kind of neatly ties to the question, what does food sovereignty look like in practice?
Um, I think one of the biggest things for me, at least as somebody that is within this organization, and within this movement, I guess in Canada, it is removing the commodification of basic human needs. Because I think right now in society, and honestly, this is an age old thing that's been happening. When you commodify basic human needs you dehumanize the individual that requires those things to survive. And once you do, humanize the individual, you degrade them further. You insult them, you destroy their spirit, you take away the humanity involved. And when you're utilizing things like food or shelter or just community support, you have to make sure that you've got the heart and the soul You know, you have to be wanting to look out for the greater good of humankind in order to function in a healthy and sustainable way. Whereas I think when we commodify basic human needs, it strips, strips us of our ability to practice these things in a healthy and life giving way. So for me, that means liberating the individual have the financial dedication, or the financial expectation that allows us to be worthy of survival. I really am against utilizing money as much as possible. I'm really against utilizing state structures that tell us that they're there to help us because I don't believe that that's ever going to work. So I think removing the humankind, from the commodification of our survival is really important.
Have, are there any other cities in Canada that have reached out to you in terms of this model?
We have quite a lot actually. So I was part of starting two different community fridges here in Regina. And when that happened, we kind of set the basis because at that time, there were not very many community fridges in Canada. There was one in Calgary at that time. And then there was the one here in Regina that I was helping to open. So a lot of other people in Canada saw that we were starting up this movement in Canada. And so we did have a lot of people reaching out to us I've I've helped guide the process a little bit. For other organizations across Canada. I've helped with some in Vancouver. I've helped with some in Winnipeg, I've helped with some in Calgary, I've also helped with some in Tokyo, some in Europe, a couple in the States as well. But I work within my food security, I do more than community fridges as well. I like to help with the education around why people are hungry, why the system operates the way that it does. So I tried to really keep my reach as wide as possible, so that I can continue having exciting interactions and keep things different. So yeah, I've had a lot of people reach out. Wow, that's, that's exciting. It's not that it's definitely a lifestyle. Yeah. It's a really new thing to Canada, they've existed, like I said, free stores and stuff like that have existed since the 50s. And 60s. Really, especially when communities were coming together through a time of class consciousness and stuff like that, when we were realizing where the serfs played, their role and all these other things. And then it was like, Well, how else are we going to survive, we have to figure out something you know, so. But unfortunately, because we are so westernized and influenced by the United States and other Western powers that oppress us on a level that is unlike anything before, unfortunately, things like community fridges weren't very common here in Canada, up until very recently, there are places in the states and there are places in Mexico that have actually put grocery stores out of business. Because their community fridge networks have become so strong, and so like autonomous and self sustaining, that people couldn't afford groceries anyways. So they figured out other ways of making ends meet. And then those grocery stores couldn't make their profit, though it said, it's where we're at right now. You know, we're gonna, we're gonna have to figure out ways to survive together. And I think mutual aid is the only way to do that.
Yeah. And also, like, what would you envision in terms of like addressing the community fridge, in terms of linking it to food sovereignty? How would you, would you say that this is a new beginning for Canada to be able to embrace?
I think it is, I really, really, really do think it is, especially because revolutionary movements all around the world have always begun with the stomach, right? There's a reason that the military says that army fights with their stomach, you know, and there's a reason that we all come together at parties and hang out in the kitchen. And there's a reason that we go over to our parents house for family supper every Sunday. And there's a reason that we feast through ceremony, and all these other things. So I think in order for the liberation and the collective revolution of the people, I think, in order for that to become successful, we need to be focusing around the things that are very basic to our human nature that nurture our hearts and our souls. And I don't think there's any better way to go about that through food, in order to be strong enough to fight for our freedom, and all these other things that we are inevitably going to have to do in some way. We need to be healthy, we need to be fed, we need to be in collective communities ready to support one another whenever we need in whatever way that is. So I think that this is going to be a huge beginning, especially because of the Indigenous interaction within Canada and the awareness of Indigenous issues. I hope often that the revolution in Canada or whatever it's going to be will be Indigenous-led, because I feel that there is no better way to work harmoniously together through this weird time than with with Indigenous leadership as well.
Alright, so the closing question, how do you think we would approach righting our relationship with food?
I think removing the commodification of it entirely. Because I think that once we, like I said before, once we start attaching money to our ability to survive now we basically put a restriction on people that don't have money for accessing food, and other basic human needs. I don't think that food should ever be behind a paywall. I think things like health care, food, shelter, none of that should have anything to do with money. That's a rich person's game. They can play it if they want. But as middle class, lower class people are literally dying for their games. And I don't think that's okay.
Well, I want to say thank you for coming on the show. And yeah, I really just wanted to say I really appreciate the work that you're doing, and bringing this in the forefront in our minds about food. And yeah, thank you for your time.
Absolutely, no problem. Thank you so much for having me on.
Thank you for listening to this month's episode of Righting our Relations with Food. We would like to thank our wonderful guests for sharing their knowledge and their insights with us. And from everyone here at Righting Relations Canada, we would like to thank our partner, the John Humphrey Center for Peace and Human Rights, and of course, our funders, the Catherine Donnelly Foundation, and Employment and Social Development Canada, for making this project possible. We hope you will join us again next month.