Meet Our Members: Zahra Parvinian

Zahra Parvinian, The Revolutionary

Interview by Roxanna Kassam Kara.*

Ask Zahra Parvinian why she loves coming to work everyday and her eyes light up. “It’s so easy for me to go to work!” she smiles. As the Director of Social Enterprise at FoodShare Toronto, Zahra is a passionate advocate for increasing access to healthy, affordable food for all Torontonians.  Her belief in social justice stems from her background – after participating in the revolution in her home country of Iran, she moved to Canada as a refugee, raising her two boys alone while putting herself through school. She is passionate, articulate and engaging, with a refreshingly enlightened perspective on the role of food in the human experience.

Why did you join TFPC?

I have a strong background in food and justice, and I thought I could help strengthen the council’s expertise in those areas. I believe that we need to increase access to healthy food for all individuals, but to do that we have to fix the system; it has to be designed in a more inclusive way. I hope my work on TFPC reflects that.

What makes you get up and go to work everyday?

It’s so easy for me to go to work! My passion for food and my commitment to social change is a big motivation for me to wake up everyday and go to my work, no matter what is happening in other areas of my life.

The other thing that keeps me going is that I have a true respect for food. I think we have lost the respect for food and the land on which we grow it, and that’s led to a lot of the social and environmental problems we have today. If people valued every bite they put in their mouths, I think we would be in a much better place today.

What’s your biggest accomplishment?
I don’t really subscribe to the Western concept of fame and success and accomplishment; I believe in the Eastern philosophy of living your purpose. 
I think sometimes people get so caught up in success and accomplishment that they forget why they are here to do things.

When I am walking to Foodshare everyday, I try my best not to think about myself and my success; instead I think about how my passion will benefit people on a daily basis. If I can do this – if I can forget myself – I think I have accomplished something worthwhile.

Why does food matter to you?
Access to food is a basic human right. As a person who holds political and social activism very dear to my heart, I believe food is a tool for social change. My work at FoodShare illustrates this – by increasing people’s access to healthy, sustainable food, we give them options, we give them value – we help them to change their lives.

Also, food is engrained in my upbringing. Both my parents came from the land, and I was taught to respect the land and the food that grows from it. Growing up in our house, the kitchen was a respectful environment; I remember it being a joyful place where my mother, my grandmother, my aunt and I all cooked together. Food is about connection for me – that’s why I still cook for my own two boys, even though they are grown. People always tell me, ‘They can cook for themselves now, they are adults,” but for me, it’s a way of expressing my love and keeping them close!

I also love food because it’s the best way to discover other cultures. When I first came to Canada, I remember how amazed we were when we discovered Chinatown. All those new spices, new flavours and dishes – it opened up a whole new world to us and introduced us to a whole new way of living. Wandering the neighbourhoods and eating in new restaurants is still one of my favourite ways to explore the city.

What does your organization do?
FoodShare Toronto was started in 1985 to address hunger in Toronto communities; our vision is Good Healthy Food for All. We partner with people, organizations, schools, activists and others in the food movement to increase access to fresh produce and create programs that impact 1.8M Torontonians a year.

We are Canada’s largest community food security organization as well as being leaders in social enterprise. We started the Good Food Box program in 1994 to benefit every segment of society in terms of access to sustainably produced, healthy food; it is now one of the largest and most successful in Canada.

What else would you like to see from TFPC?

I think the TFPC has achieved quite a lot, especially in the past year. We contributed to the GrowTO Urban Agriculture Plan and we worked to bring in a more diverse membership featuring people from a wider range of backgrounds.  I’m happy with what we’ve achieved but I think we still have a way to go in terms of balancing the council with people from diverse backgrounds. That’s what I hope we can work towards this year.


*The TFPC is grateful to Roxanna Kassam Kara for designing a format to feature our members on this blog.
Roxanna Kassam Kara is a former processed food marketer who now runs, a site that debunks marketing myths and helps consumers navigate the supermarket. She is a freelance writer, a marketing and communications professional and a passionate food advocate.