A Personal Note from James Haga

Hello Meal Exchangers!

It’s hard to describe how excited and honoured I am to join the Meal Exchange team at this important time. It’s a privilege to join you in this meaningful work.

Maybe it’s true that every generation feels like the world has never been a more complex place, but to me, most days it feels as if things are at once increasingly interconnected and also intensely fragmented and disconnected. Despite the abundance of wealth and technology that has been generated, we know that the benefits of society have not been fairly distributed and that the personal impacts and social stresses that result from this are real. We know there is still so much work to do.  

It feels important to see the world as it is, but also to work hard for what it could be. For more than two decades, Meal Exchange has embodied this as a youth-driven, National movement motivated to build a more just, inclusive and resilient food system. Food has the power to be a unifier, to build inclusive community, to enable health and to help address interconnected issues like poverty, inequality and climate change. Still, when equal access in society is not a reality for all, food has the power to serve as a barrier in our communities.

Growing up in Vancouver in a family affected by addictions and mental health, I felt compelled to work with people in my community to address some of the problems I was seeing. This was an empowering experience that showed me how a group of concerned citizens could create change, but it also taught me that there were so many problems that I didn’t see and many experiences that I was blind to. This same cycle of learning has occurred many times since, and has reinforced in my leadership style the importance of active listening and acknowledging my own uncertainties and biases.

Joining this organization, I’m humbled to be following some really outstanding humans, like Anita, who have led Meal Exchange in inspired ways. I’m a relationship-first kind of person, and with that, I’m very excited to meet and learn from you, our amazing volunteers, alumni and partners who make Meal Exchange what it is. If you have ideas or perspectives to share, and want to learn more about me, you are always welcome to be in touch: james@mealexchange.com.

Moving forward, I’m tremendously motivated to build on the history of Meal Exchange’s work, and to take us forward by growing the network of students, young people, and community partners we work with in promoting people-centered and innovative solutions that make Canada a better place.

Thank you for everything you do.


Q & A with James

Q: What are the values that drive you and inform your work?

A: I should start by saying that I've always thought a lot about the tension between the values that I aspire to, and the consistency (or at times lack of consistency) with which I practice them day in and day out in my life. There's a gap between the two, and it feels really important to acknowledge. 

More than anything else, I'd say I'm motivated by a desire to find meaning and belonging, and to share in those things with community. That's why I'm so motivated to be a part of the Meal Exchange team, because it's such a grounded way to contribute to building a society that works for more people, and in doing so I get to live my life in a way that is deeply fulfilling. It's a really privileged position to be in.

Q: How would your family and friends describe you?

A: Oh, they'd have so much to say! Because these people love me and they'd have to start with something nice, the first thing would probably be that I tend to lead with my heart and that I show up for the people in my life. They'd definitely say that I'm a reflective person, that I like to ask a lot of "why" questions and find purpose in most things, and that I really like talking with people (even people in elevators). They'd say that at times I can be needy and annoying, especially when I get hung up on overthinking things, and that I can be impatient and lousy at keeping to time. They'd confirm that I'm an enthusiastic, minimally-talented dancer, and that I regularly revisit words and poetry to help me find meaning where there might not be any! 

Q: What does good food mean to you, in your own words?

A: For me, good food is both an enabler and the result of so many important, intersecting ideas. It's about providing nourishment and fuel for our lives. It's about place, culture and bringing people together to share in a daily, elemental practice. At its best, good food allows communities to reflect on the knowledge and wisdom of what has come before us, while also bringing attention to the sustainability of our food and economic systems and ensuring that future generations can benefit from good food. And still, we have to acknowledge that poverty, in its many forms, is often the underlying condition that blocks people from accessing good food, health and well-being.  

Q: What is your go to recipe/ meal for dinner parties?

A: Growing up on the West Coast, salmon has always been my comfort food - I especially love preparing it with roasted parsnips, carrots and potatoes. 

Q: What is your experience with student leadership?

A: My whole career I've worked closely with young people and students, and so I have a profound belief in the power of what student leadership and action can accomplish. More and more, it feels vitally important that students continue to find their voice and take action on the critical issues that affect the world we live in. For me, it's inspiring to see the surge of energy that comes from being a part of something bigger and finding your place as an active citizen. I've seen time and time again how students can mobilize significant change not only on their own campus or in their community, but also in the corridors of power where governments are making big policy decisions. 

Q: How do you hope to impact the work of Meal Exchange?

A: First off, I see myself as part of a very long relay race! I'm building on the work of so many awesome people who have come before me, and as time goes so many more people will step up to lead Meal Exchange in small and big ways. 

For now, I'm really focused on how we can strengthen the community, voice and collective impact of Meal Exchange as a national organization driven by diverse young people and students. This is a moment when, around the globe, young people are stepping up and leading the charge on key issues like poverty reduction, climate change and food sustainability - so my intention is to make Meal Exchange an even more compelling and powerful platform for student action. I'm a strong believer in the power of collaboration, and I'm excited to help us forge more dynamic partnerships that allow us to find the linkages between the specific issues that affect students and the challenges that are faced by people in our communities more broadly.