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From Farm to Fork: Food Systems for a New World

This article is powered by Concert Properties, presenting sponsors for Science World’s feature exhibition Towers of Tomorrow, empowering us to explore the intersection of urban planning and community collaboration. 

The pandemic has caused global food-supply disruptions and experts have reported an acceleration in the crisis of food insecurity. Last week, the UN World Food Programme received the Nobel Peace Prize for its efforts to increase relief and reach 40 million more people than planned pre-COVID-19.

In response, the program's Executive Director David Beasley said, “Until the day we have a medical vaccine, food is the best vaccine against chaos.”  

But critics argue that international-aid-model food programs perpetuate vulnerability by sourcing supplies from a reactive global market. Instead, they say, efforts should be refocused on strengthening local food systems within our own communities. 

Food as Relation

In 2016, Dr. Tammara Soma co-founded Canada’s first social innovation lab to tackle the issue of food waste through a lens of food justice and reconciliation. “We’re focused on not burdening the populations that are already marginalized and on not bringing more band-aid type solutions.” 

Originally from Indonesia, Dr. Soma belongs to the Sundanese tribe of West Java. When she came to Canada, her friend Dr. Aaron Mills of the Couchiching First Nation introduced her to the concept of food as a relation rather than a commodity. She says it's the most valuable lesson she's learned here.

“How revolutionary would it be to treat food that way? Canada likely wouldn’t have the $49 billion worth of food waste a year we do now.”  

Today, Dr. Soma is an Assistant Professor at the School of Resource and Environmental Management at SFU,  and a proud Science World nerd.

She credits her mentor Dr. Marie Wilson—a commissioner on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada—with helping her shape the Food Systems Lab's mission: to keep residential school survivors at the heart of the story. 

“Food has been weaponized to actually create ill health in Indigenous communities. And we want to support the work of food as medicine. When we change the paradigm around how we treat one another, food is healing.” 

Growing Resiliency

“Before the pandemic, our lab team would come together and break bread with our research partners and citizen scientists,” says Dr. Soma. 

In the past, many of her food-resiliency research participants sought out the free meals provided by Sikh gurdwaras, which welcome anyone regardless of religion, race or income.

Now, fewer communal options exist, and Dr. Soma notes the ripple effects. “Because of COVID, it’s much more difficult to provide one-on-one support for our community and research partners, many of whom are facing critical issues. It’s a very challenging time for sure.” 

However, Dr. Soma is hopeful the pandemic will encourage more city planners to invest in local food infrastructure and food systems. 

As an example, she points to the City of Victoria’s pandemic initiative to pause some ornamental landscaping programs and instead grow food for residents.

"It's interesting to think of edible landscaping and edible parks. Resiliency is the opposite of being vulnerable and precarious. The urban garden you grow will be resilient to a pandemic. Local food systems give us strength."

Immerse yourself in the living world.

The Ken Spencer Science Park is open now at Science World! Buzz through pollinator friendly planting. Learn tips and tools for your own balcony garden. Visit our contented hens as they cluck and scratch in their coops. A renewed sense of connection to the natural world awaits you.