(FDS1) Hunger Pains: Food Justice in (Times of) Crisis

Tuesday Jun 18 11:00 am to 12:30 pm (Eastern Daylight Time)
Wong Building - WONG 1050

Session Code: FDS1
Session Format: Paper Presentations
Session Language: English
Research Cluster Affiliation: Not Applicable
Session Categories: In-person Session

At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, countries around the world experienced a rise in food insecurity. Within so-called Canada, this rise occurred at an especially alarming rate, particularly within and around the densely populated cities of Toronto, Vancouver, and Montreal. In response, food justice activists here and abroad formed dozens of mutual aid projects in support of those experiencing food insecurity exacerbated by COVID-19. At first, the public rallied to support these initiatives. However, as the pandemic persisted, the “new normal” began to set in, and food justice groups experienced a rapid decline in public support, and food justice activists accused the wider public of coopting mutual aid. Simultaneously, global rates of food insecurity skyrocketed, with non-white, im/migrant, disabled, queer, trans, and postcolonial communities at the forefront of those impacted. As COVID-19 continues to disproportionately starve and impoverish the marginalized without much public concern or intervention, and the devastations of climate crisis not only become more salient but overlap with this uncanny new world, our panel asks: What does it mean to do food justice in times of crisis/postcrisis? Tags: Equality and Inequality, Food Studies

Organizers: Jade Da Costa, University of Guelph, Andrea Roman Alfaro, University of Toronto; Chair: Jade Da Costa, University of Guelph


Jonathan Amoyaw, Dalhousie University; Barbara Twum-Antwi, University of Saskatchewan; Michelle Wang, Dalhousie University

The struggle is real: Food insecurity and coping strategies among postsecondary international students

International students make a significant contribution to their host institutions and countries. However, studying at a university or college in another country can be a demanding and stressful experience, especially in the initial stages. It requires resilience to adapt to a new learning environment, culture and way of life while juggling academic demands, work, and family obligations. These challenges may be exacerbated by financial pressure to cover academic and non-academic expenses such as tuition and rent, which increases the risk of experiencing food insecurity. As evidence from Canada and other popular immigrant-destination countries continues to accumulate, food insecurity among postsecondary students has been brought to the centre of policy and scholarly discussions. Yet, there are limited studies that synthesize insights from existing research on the risk factors of food insecurity among international students and the coping strategies they adopt to address their food needs, hence the focus of this scoping review. Examining the breadth of literature on factors related to food insecurity among international students would improve the understanding of the pertinent issues in this area and allow for the identification of research gaps that should be addressed in the future. This scoping review focuses on studies conducted in Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, and the USA since they are popular study places for international students. We searched the following databases for relevant studies: MEDLINE (through Ovid), CINAHL (EBSCO), PubMed, ERIC (via Ovid) and ProQuest. The Joanna Briggs Institute scoping review methodology was used to guide this scoping review. Insights from this review reveal that international students face multiple challenges related to the quantity and quality of food they consume and their access to cultural foods, which worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our findings highlight not only the salience of logistical and socio-economic risk factors but also shed light on the diverse self-reliant coping strategies international students adopt to meet their food needs, often at the expense of their health and wellbeing. These insights can stimulate robust discussions about the role of social and institutional support in addressing food insecurity among international students.

Non-presenting authors:  Geoffrey Maina, University of Saskatchewan

Hanika Nakagawa, Dalhousie University

Forbidden but not forgotten forests: Foraging and UNESCO policy restrictions in Indigenous Tokunoshima

Tokunoshima is a part of the Amami Archipelago in Japan that has been named to the “Blue Zone” referencing longevity and healthy lives, specifically, part of the Okinawa blue zone (Buettner and Skemp 2016). These islands are, however, peppered with evidence of military occupation, both domestic and American. Facing cultural, economic, military, environmental and industrial forms of violence, here considered together as “slow violence” (Nixon 2011), Islanders sought some form of protection from further environmental degradation and encroachment, finally achieving it in the form of UNESCO World Heritage status in July 2021 (UNESCO 2021). UNESCO policies dictate that 50% of a land mass must be “untouched” to qualify for World Heritage status under the natural heritage category 10, the most restrictive and protective category. Nonetheless, some islanders, like my grandmother, faced by UNESCO restrictions, choose to ignore the UNESCO policies about human foraging for food, and still collect tsuwabuki , ferns, mushrooms, and other edibles from forest gardens. These practices embody the classic romantic, utopic, enticing view of the neorural (Snikersproge 2023), but also hides invisible policies of rural dispossession and “letting die” (Li 2009), specifically as the result of refusal to clean up contaminants in agricultural run-off and sugarcane factory waste before these entered the freshwater supply and/or the ocean. In this paper, I will return to my Masters thesis data (XXXX 2023), to elaborate on the theoretical framework of slow violence from an Indigenous Amami perspective. I suggest that slow violence is not merely enacted by industry in the creation of toxic spaces, but now also operates within the “protections” offered by UNESCO, restricting the food practices and food memories Indigenous peoples. New UNESCO policies rupture the relationship between the Indigenous Amami peoples of Tokunoshima and their land, their cultural practices, their food systems, and their identities. Soon, nothing will be left but nostalgia. The places of foraging protected by the habu (extremely poisonous vipers) are forest gardens. The forests in the mountains are a garden kept by many keepers; the humans interact with root systems, insects, forest creatures, airborne seeds and particles, and winds—and together these make pathways and clearings for the Amami Black rabbits to pause. Forest gardens are the spots where acorns can be gathered in the fall, where islanders follow time-worn ancestral paths maintained for human safety from the hidden habu in the underbrush—these are also a place for the endangered and protected Amami Black rabbits to seek refuge from the habu. The Black Rabbit, now a protected species, is also the mascot for/face of environmentalism on Tokunoshima, even though it was once a candidate for human consumption, hunted in its forest garden. The habu preys on Black Rabbits, but also protects the garden, preventing people from going into the deep brush or staying too long.[1] [1] The birds warn other beings that it is time to leave, thereby preventing over-picking, ensuring that sufficient food is left for the wild boars. But, forest gardens are now havens for forbidden fruits, protected from humans by UNESCO. Consequently, forest gardens are becoming dangerous for all beings, undone by the very practices meant to protect them. This paper will conclude with words of caution. UNESCO rushes to protect “nature” from her human “enemy,” not recognizing that human footsteps are necessary in caring for forests, and failing to recognize that human are products of food as nourishment, and thus grown from gardens. Indigenous peoples are an important part of the environment in some protected spaces. Therefore, I conclude asking why Tokunoshima sought UNESCO World Heritage status, given that many beings are not protected by UNESCO, and also asking that we consider robbing peoples of their memories, their food systems, their cultural practices as part of the theoretical framework of slow violence.

Amy Li, Carleton University; Megan Linton, Carleton University

Feeding Useless Eaters: Austerity, Institutionalization, and Disability Injustice

Rolled in on a thousand pound reheating carts, plastic trays, and plastic utensils, food cooked thousands of kilometers away is placed in dining halls and on bed trays in long-term care institutions, prisons, and hospitals. What do we feed those society names useless eaters? As a piece of Nazi Germany propaganda, useless eaters was a label used to dehumanize and target disabled people, who were deemed as ‘life unworthy of life’. Today, the menus in prisons, long-term care homes, and disability institutions are evidence of what we feed those we continue to dehumanize. Food is powerful, in capitalist markets food and its production is used to both produce and discipline hardworking subjects, alienate our relations to the land, in order to sell more goods. For our research paper, we plan to explore the food and consumption experiences of disabled people in institutions. While we believe there are valuable intersections between food studies and disability studies, food studies has yet to fully engage with institutionalization and disability. Our paper will explore how carceral institutions utilize food as a tool for control and dehumanization, and the importance of turning towards alternative forms of care. This is a valuable area of study as there is a limited amount of research being conducted on disabled people and their experiences with food in these carceral institutions, despite how historically institutionalized disabled people have suffered immensely in these facilities, and how food has been used as a tool for punishment, control, and austerity. Autonomy is a fraught issue for disabled people and is deeply entangled with food and its consumption. This becomes especially apparent in carceral institutions such as care homes, hospitals, and prisons. While institutions like long-term care homes or prisons might provide some food, it is not “good” food in any sense of the term. Moreover, the food provided in these sites has been demonstrated to alienate people from their culture, exacerbating illnesses, and By drawing from artistic responses to the food being served in carceral institutions, we will employ an arts-based analysis to explore how food is experienced in carceral institutions. We will draw from art pieces such as Jeff Moyer’s audio documentary titled “Lest We Forget,” which details the experiences of disabled people and the staff of institutions in Ohio, “We are What we Eat” by the Pentonville Prison Art Group, and a cabaret performance by disabled artists Sick and Twisted theatre titled “Useless Eaters.” These artistic responses will enable a deeper understanding of how disabled people understand their own experiences with food in carceral institutions. Our discussion will be supplemented with an comparative analysis of different menus from various institutions to see how these institutions are portraying their food options for residents. A guiding theoretical framework for our paper is queer crip feminist understandings of food and food justice, and drawing from these understandings we will take up Hall’s (2014) call for good food that enables flourishing, whereas institutional food demonstrates what Fritsch (2016) points to as withering. From this queer crip feminist framework, it becomes clear how food is simply another mechanism of control for these institutions and how good food is central to a dignified human experience. Good food cannot exist in these institutions precisely due to their carceral nature. In demanding food we can and want to eat, we are fighting for the destruction of the systems that decide food based on production quantity and revenue. In demanding food we can eat, we are fighting for the destruction of systems of colonization that decide the food based on Euro-centric production mechanisms and desires. We are demanding interdependent relations, since food is an interdependent relationship between food, land, and people. The experiences of disabled people who have lived and survived these institutions highlights the need for interdependency and the abolishment of carceral institutions. Our paper is highly relevant to the session “Hunger Pains: Food Justice in (Times of) Crisis” as COVID-19 has only exacerbated many existing crises in care work. As our paper will demonstrate, food is a critical dimension to conversations about disability and care, and the pandemic has contributed to heightened vulnerability for disabled people in this area as well. 

Nicole Pasloski, University of Saskatchewan

Food Insecurity in an Overlooked Subpopulation - An Ethnographic and Autoethnographic Enquiry

Food insecurity has become a growing issue for many Canadian subpopulations. When the COVID-19 pandemic began in March of 2020, countless Canadian food-insecure households and individuals were not able to use previously relied-upon services or practises to ease their struggles with food insecurity due to a variety of societal, logistical, economic and public health factors. This case study focuses on post-secondary students as one disproportionately affected subgroup and uses a critical ethnographic approach paired with an autoethnographic lens to explore these experiences. The researcher combined two methods in order to portray a clearer and more in-depth understanding of the phenomenon. Drawing on one-on-one interviews and interrogation of her own lived experiences, the researcher draws out the complex, comingled, and often painful realities of food insecurity in the lives of university students. Participants’ struggles to obtain sustenance and their compulsion to minimize the difficulties they face is explored through discussion matters that uniquely affect post-secondary students at the University of Saskatchewan. Combining these intimate interviews with the first-person contribution of the researcher who also struggles with food insecurity resulted in not only an additive but a multiplicative enrichment to the analysis and depth of understanding. The author is incredibly adept at household food management due to her previous years of experience as a restaurateur and professional cook. This perspective offers unique understanding of food systems and economics, and this view paired with personal experience as a single mother and student make for a compelling narrative around an often shame-filled subject. The interviewees offered open and abundant views into their distressing experiences struggling with food access during a difficult period in history and painted something of a dismal picture for future students. Combining these one-on-one interviews with autoethnographic inquiry also attempts to lift some of the stigma attached to food insecurity, and to open up the conversation with the reader in a non-anonymous way. However, amidst the critiques they offer of structural barriers, neglect, and inadequate supports, the participants and the researcher are hopeful, and proffer ideas on how to make changes that could improve the food security of future cohorts of post-secondary students. Economic organization and social norms have framed food insecurity, and more broadly, poverty, as a personal failing. However, over time as more education achieves less financial stability, individual food security impacts generations’ choices to continue higher education, which in turn will impact the face of the Canadian labour force. While typical inflation affects Canadians at the grocery store on an average year, the rate of inflation since 2020 has gone beyond typical and has ascended to profit-driven price-gouging. Experiences of struggles relating to food insecurity are becoming more common, and affecting more individuals than ever before, creating a wider gap in income equality, namely among groups who are already faced with adversity like new Canadians, Indigenous populations, single parents, and those with permanent health restrictions.

Laurence Godin, Université Laval

Documenting food insecurity among children and yound adults in Quebec City

In Quebec, household food insecurity has significantly worsened since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. According to data from the INSPQ (Quebec National Institute for Public Health), in March 2023, 24% of Quebec households were facing marginal, moderate, or severe food insecurity—the highest proportion since April 2020. Families with minor children (particularly those led by single mothers), young adults and immigrant families are consistently more affected than others. Despite this trend, the situation of food insecurity among children and youth in Quebec City remains poorly documented. Their unique circumstances, marked by financial and social dependence to adults, the integration into institutions, such as schools, which can exercise surveillance, and their subjective experiences of poverty and financial precariousness, demand specific attention. In an effort to address this gap in knowledge, we set out to provide an initial overview of food insecurity among young people in Quebec City, conduction focus groups and interviews with various organizations working with this population. This presentation aims to highlight the key findings from this fieldwork.The results reveal that while the root causes of food insecurity among children and adolescents mirror those of the general population, their lived experience differs significantly. For children aged 0 to 12, the problems they encounter are those of their families. Besides poverty itself, the presence of children further complicates the intricate logistics of daily food consumption, already strained by limited resources in terms of both money and time. During adolescence, these challenges persist, compounded by age-specific issues such as the significance of friendships, social isolation exacerbated by food insecurity, and concerns related to body image, weight-related stigma, and eating disorders. Individuals and families from immigrant backgrounds may experience these issues differently, with gender roles placing an additional burden on girls and teenagers who can bear the responsibility of feeding their siblings, especially in contexts where parents work long hours and financial resources are limited. Among college and university students, food insecurity is characterized by both trivialization and stigmatization. The trivialization arises from the widespread belief that extreme financial insecurity is an inherent part of student life, while stigmatization stems from the daily experiences of shame commonly associated with this issue. International students can experience these same issues, coupled with the challenges posed by having to learn a new food culture. Furthermore, young adults in precarious social and financial situations, often seeking help from community organizations, frequently recount a lack of significant support throughout their lives, whether from family or from child protection services when they are involved. This lack of support not only affects their financial situation, but it also translates in a lack of the basic skills and knowledge necessary for proper nutrition and for independent, adult life more generally. Finally, the participants in this study voiced their own challenges in supporting children, adolescents, and young adults experiencing varying levels of food insecurity. While they appreciated having their work and challenges acknowledged through academic research, questions arise regarding how research can support them when the solutions to the problem of food security are well known, being closely tied to the fight against poverty. From a sociological perspective, further exploring the lived experience of children and young adults concerned with food insecurity may support a deeper sociological understanding of food, eating, and its role in fostering social bonds within a context of escalating inequalities and compounding crises.