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By Meryn Corkery (she/her), Colin Dring (he/him), Joyce Liao (she/her), and Will Valley (he/him), Centre for Sustainable Food Systems, Faculty of Land and Food Systems, UBC

In our roles as educators in post-secondary institutions, we frequently use a simple introductory activity with under-graduate students: we ask them to describe their ideal food system. They often articulate a field-to-fork journey with themes that touch upon the following:

  • Agricultural production models that feed the world and regenerate biodiversity and ecosystems.
  • Efficient, safe, and low-carbon distribution systems.
  • Ethical and zero-waste processing.
  • Affordable, culturally appropriate food assets.
  • Time to shop, eat, cook, and grow food.
  • Opportunities to share and celebrate through communal eating, free fridges, and other mutual-aid efforts.

Terms such as sustainable, organic, local, family-run, fair-trade, and clean are frequently used. However, terms like equity, justice, anti-oppressive, or decolonial are mostly absent. Our students rarely venture into areas that tend to lurk in the shadows of modern, industrial, capitalist food systems. 

  • We follow the activity with discussion questions meant to explore and unpack the hidden side of food systems, such as the following:
  • Who is doing the work in this ideal food system? Is it migrant labour imported from other countries?
  • Is the distribution of prominent, prestigious, and powerful jobs in the food system skewed significantly toward one gender?
  • Who determines how and what just and sustainable food futures look like? 
  • Is your ideal food system built upon unceded, stolen land of Indigenous Peoples?

Our student-led group developed the Just Food Educational Resource to give educators the tools to dive into these types of questions with their learners. The resource is structured into seven modules, plus a facilitator’s guide. The facilitator’s guide helps build the foundations for collectively examining implicit biases, complicities, and traumas, as well as exploring the values, beliefs, and assumptions that underlie individuals’ experiences and understandings of food systems in relation to others.

The introductory module lays the foundation of under-standing food justice as “the struggle against racism, exploitation, and oppression taking place within the food system that addresses inequality’s root causes both within and beyond the food chain.”1 The remaining six modules explore different components of food justice and their intersectionality as a way of exploring food system inequities: Agriculture as a Colonial Project; Diasporic Foodways; Migrant Labour; Local Food Movement; Food Systems Governance; and Gender, Equity, and Food Security. 

The food system is not immune to the social, political, environmental, and interpersonal forces that shape society more broadly. Globally, women work almost an hour more per day than men and take on disproportionately more unpaid tasks than men, including housework and cooking.2 In Canada, our agricultural system is powered by 58,800 temporary foreign workers who grow much of the local food Canadians eat (20% of the total labour force),3 but are not granted permanent residency on arrival and are afforded lower standards of living and reduced access to basic services. Locally, in Vancouver (but in other communities as well), learner populations are diverse. Forty-four percent of learners speak a language other than English at home, and 140 languages are represented in the learner population.4 This underscores the importance of highlighting the cultural diversity of foods to authentically hold up our students’ lived experiences. 

If these factors significantly shape, influence, and permeate our current food systems, then why are topics of labour inequities, racism, sexism, and colonialism not more prominent in our students’ imaginations?

Food studies in K–12 educational settings in BC is often limited to a small subset of the applied design, skills, and technologies curricula, when really food can be integrated to teach a wide variety of social, political, and environmental issues in alignment with the BC curriculum. These are fundamental issues that learners will need to be prepared to address as educated citizens, and will only become more pertinent throughout their lifetime. Anti-oppressive and justice-oriented food systems education provides numerous opportunities for experiential, inquiry-based outdoor learning and competency development.

While the Just Food modules were primarily developed for use in a post-secondary context, all of the content and themes are relevant to secondary learners as well. The modules align with core competency development, especially personal and social competencies as learners explore their own social identities and place themselves within larger social and political systems throughout the modules. For example, the Migrant Labour module aligns with social studies curricular outcomes associated with understanding how migration shaped Canada, historically and through ongoing processes. The Diasporic Foodways module builds off of understandings of culture and food present in Social Studies 11 and Culinary Arts 11. Other modules feature content links to Urban Studies, Political Studies, Food Studies, Human Geography, Social Justice, and BC First Peoples 12.

Many organizations are already linking anti-oppressive and justice-oriented food systems education to the BC curriculum. Get in touch with local food literacy and land-based learning organizations, such as Fresh Roots or the Environmental Youth Alliance, to learn more. Or reach out to a provincial organization, like Farm to School BC, to be connected with organizations in your region. Build off of the modules in the Just Food Educational Resource, or better yet, have your learners create their own food justice module about a topic they are passionate about. Form a cohort of like-minded educators engaging in this work to discuss what issues, emotions, and responses arise, both in yourself and in your learners. This is a call-in to use the power of food to connect your community of learners to the world around them. And while doing so, equity, anti-oppression, and justice must be kept at the forefront so that we do not unintentionally reproduce the harms of past and present as we collectively work toward a better future.

Visit www.justfood.landfood.ubc.ca for the Just Food Educational Resource. Additional resources mentioned in this article can be found at linktr.ee/JustFoodResources.

1 Hislop D 2014 Reaping Equity across the USA: FJ Organizations Observed at the National Scale Master’s Thesis (University of California–Davis)
2 www.weforum.org/agenda/2017/06/its-official-women-work-nearly-an-hour-longer-than-men-every-day
3 www.honeycouncil.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/1.-AG-TFW-Arrivals-Provincial-Analysis-Aug-2-2020-BIL.pdf
4 www.vsb.bc.ca/District/Pages/Default.aspx


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