FeedBack is a reflections blog authored by the AFI-HQP Grad Scholars on their experiences in the program. Jessica Castellanos Labarcena is an Arrell Scholar working toward a PhD in the Integrative Biology Department and her research is focused on studying the distribution of insects in agri-food landscapes using bioinformatic tools.
Access to food is a fundamental human right, however food insecurity remains one of Canada’s most significant challenges. The Guelph-Wellington region has not been spared from issues of food insecurity. Regional statistics show that between 2012 and 2014, approximately 14% of households in this area experienced food insecurity (Smart cities challenge 2020, City of Guelph). Considering the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic impact, it is not naive to think that this number must have increased dramatically. In this sense, winning a ten-million-dollar grant to work towards creating Canada’s first circular economy in Guelph and Wellington County couldn’t be timelier. The Smart Cities Challenge is a competition open to all communities across Canada that encourages the adoption of innovative approaches to improve their residents’ lives. In January 2020, Our Food Future, the winning project, was launched in Guelph-Wellington with the vision of increasing access to affordable and nutritious food by 50%, creating 50 new businesses and collaborations following a model of a circular economy, and increasing revenues by 50% through recognizing and recapturing the value of “waste.”
In order to develop policies to improve access to nutritious food, research is needed to understand the current availability of healthy foods in Canadian communities and identify problematic areas. Assessment of the availability of healthy food in local retailers is a vital first step to understanding the actions that can be taken to improve people’s diets and overall health within a community (Minaker, 2016). This line of action is where we, a multidisciplinary group of graduate students at the University of Guelph, became involved. As part of the Our Food Future’s Nutritious Foods Workstream, our project aims to conduct a food environment assessment to understand baseline access to affordable and nutritious foods.
We will be conducting telephone/video call interviews with managers/owners/ operators of grocery stores, convenience stores and recreation centres located in Guelph-Wellington. The interview will allow us to gain their perspective about accessibility, marketing and actions to promote healthier foods and gauge interest in future interventions. This will be significant in determining the motivation, expectations, and roles of stakeholders in accepting and making changes in the community’s food environment. We expect to compile relevant information, map the food outlets in the area, and open the path to future opportunities for promoting consumption of nutritious foods within the community.
This project has been a challenge as well as an opportunity for us to learn and improve our team collaboration skills. Amidst the ups and downs of these uncertain times we live in, we have been able to progress with guidance and support from the community partners and teaching staff. Individually, we stepped out of our area of expertise to dive into relevant topics in our community; as a group, we have built a strong proposal and collaborative network. We hope that our results will be incorporated into the broader food environment assessment by the Nutritious Foods Workstream and contribute to future interventions in food retail settings. We hope to make a real impact in our community and contribute to understanding Canadian food environments.
Smart cities challenge annotated application guideline. (2020). Retrieved November 04, 2020, from http://foodfuture.ca/smart-cities-challenge/
Minaker, L.M. (2016). Retail food environments in Canada: Maximizing the impact of research, policy and practice. Canadian Journal of Public Health 107, eS1–eS3 https://doi.org/10.17269/CJPH.107.5632