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Food and Agriculture Institute

Equitable Food Systems

Reimagining Food Systems for a Sustainable and Equitable Future

 Revelstoke_from_Mount_Revelstoke_Kirby, D. [Photographer] (2008)

Revelstoke British Columbia from Mount Revelstoke. Photo credit: Darren Kirby, 2008

Project Description

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerabilities and inequities of food systems. Communities across the world have experienced a range of problems during the pandemic related to food production, distribution, and access, and these issues do not affect all members of a community equally, with marginalized populations being particularly impacted by food, health, and economic security challenges. In addition, these vulnerabilities are not limited to pandemic-related crises. In many ways, the COVID-19 challenges reflect into food systems issues that communities have and will continue to experience with other major socioeconomic disturbances such as climate change. When considering such issues through a climate justice lens, it is apparent that communities and societies also will experience the increasingly severe effects of climate change unevenly. Developing resilient, equitable food systems is a critical challenge for sustainable communities, and it requires rethinking approaches to how processes for decision-making navigate issues of representation and difference ultimately resolving how the ‘benefits’ and ‘burdens’ of local food systems are distributed.

The research uses an equity lens to develop and apply interactive visualizations as planning tools for supporting progress toward sustainable, equitable local food futures. The project employs a novel interdisciplinary approach, combining concepts/methods from food justice, planning, and visualizations studies, and it responds to two research challenges revealed by COVID-19. Firstly, the pandemic has highlighted how food systems impacts affect different groups unequally; accordingly, this research will develop and use an equity framework for guiding food systems planning processes, outcomes, and tool development. Secondly, the project experiments with interactive visualizations that support digital and remote engagement, thereby offering new opportunities for planning research and practice during times when circumstances call for online engagement (e.g., physically-distancing during the pandemic).

Research Approach

This research employs a community-based participatory approach, partnering with the community of Revelstoke, British Columbia. The research will consist of three phases:

  • Phase 1 involves developing and applying a food systems equity framework to a scenario planning exercise. This work builds upon the work of Andreotti[1], who developed the HEADS UP framework for critically examining issues and inquiry processes using a social justice lens.
  • Phase 2 centres on building a visualization tool for exploring food systems scenarios. Using methods developed by Newell and colleagues[2], the visualization tool development involves creating a realistic, immersive virtual environments that depicts food systems strategies in local neighbourhoods, allowing users to virtually ‘walk through’ these places and toggle different scenarios.
  • Phase 3 consists of a final workshop with local government, community groups, and community members to explore the food systems scenarios and assess the visualization, as a tool for supporting local food systems planning and progress toward food justice.

This research is part of a larger project that also works with the communities of Prince Rupert and Prince George in their efforts to develop local food systems in ways that support social justice objectives.

Project Collaborators

Community Connections (Revelstoke) Society, logo

phabc-logo, Public Health Association of BC, logo

Project Funding 

We are grateful to Canada’s Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council (SSHRC) for providing funding provided to support this project through their New Frontiers in Research Fund (NFRF) - 2021 Innovative Approaches to Research in the Pandemic Context initiative.

[1] Andreotti, V. (2014). Critical literacy: Theories and practices in development education. Policy & Practice: A Development Education Review, 19, 12-32. https://www.developmenteducationreview.com/issue/issue-19/critical-literacy-theories-and-practices-development-education
[2] Newell, R., McCarthy, N., Picketts, I., Davis, F., Hovem, G., & Navarrete, S. (2021). Communicating complexity: Interactive model explorers and immersive visualizations as tools for local planning and community engagement. FACETS, 6(1), 287-316. https://doi.org/10.1139/facets-2020-0045

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