By Maggie Mills
The Canadian Association of Food Studies 2019 Conference was hosted at University of British Columbia’s beautiful Vancouver campus at the 2019 Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences. Canadian and international scholars came together to discuss all things food, from community engagement to agriculture and power dynamics within research and food. Many researchers from across the FLEdGE network presented their research projects and findings at various sessions throughout the conference.
The conference kicked off with a book launch for the recently released edited collection Civil Society and Social Movements in Food Systems Governance. This book was edited and authored by researchers throughout the FLEdGE network and includes international examples of how social movements can transform food systems. Select contributors participated in two panel discussions to highlight their work and ￼offer multiple insights on community engagement and food system governance.
Andrew Spring, Research Associate at Wilfrid Laurier University, and Laine Young, Laurier PhD Candidate, participated in a panel on sustainable agriculture. While their research projects vary in terms of context, they both work with food insecure communities to improve local agricultural practices. One of the projects Andrew is involved with works toward creating a garden in a small community in the Northwest Territories. While Laine, is partnering with an urban agriculture organization in Quito, Ecuador to assess their grassroots work through a feminist lens. Both Andrew and Laine examined the successes of these initiatives and the obstacles associated with local food movements. They find that while strides have been made, larger societal issues need to be addressed if we want a just, functional, sustainable food system.
Alison Blay-Palmer, FLEdGE Principal Investigator and Director of the Laurier Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, and Kent Mullinix, Director of the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems, participated in a session on using indicators and data to better understand our food systems. The panel discussion was moderated by Charles Levkoe and explained how indicators can be used to design appropriate interventions for improving the issues in a food system by effectively describing the food system climate. This panel discussed the usefulness of using indicators to characterize a food system and how they can be used to track an initiative’s affect on a food system and the people within it. They also spoke about the challenges of food system assessment. Data is not always accessible and it can be difficult to find metrics that clearly and accurately represent issues within a food system.
Among the most important takeaways from the conference, was the need and ability to empower communities to take their food system into their own hands. Many of the sessions focused on community-based research and the responsibility to ensure that research outcomes are shared with the community in an usable and meaningful way. Topics and research presented and discussed throughout the conference provided a strong reminder that people are at the centre of all our food systems work.
About the Author:
Maggie Mills (BAH, Economics) is a Danish-descended settler and Master of Environmental Studies candidate living on Coast Salish territory. She researches food systems and capacity building in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.