Linking Peace and Food Security Research

Irena Knezevic was one of the students in the PeaceMeal Project‘s first cohort of students for the online course offered through the National Peace Academy. Here, she describes her work with FoodARC and a presentation she gave to tie in her learning from the course with her professional life in food security research.

FoodARC is a food security research centre at Mount Saint Vincent University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. (We were formerly known as the Participatory Action Research and Training Centre on Food Security.) Our research is community-based and action oriented.  We also train students and create opportunities for mutual learning among researchers, community members, and policy makers.

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Here at FoodARC we look at food from many angles – we focus on food security, but see how we define it:
“Food security exists when everyone has access to safe, nutritious food of the variety and amount that they need and want, in a way that maintains their dignity. Food security also exists when people are able to earn a living wage by growing, producing, processing, handling, selling, and serving food, as well as when our planet is protected for future generations.”

Clearly, by focusing on one concern – food security – we in fact encompass a range of issues. Affordability, farmers and fishers’ livelihoods, processing and distribution, ecology, food skills, community engagement with food, policy and social justice – we are interested in all of that.

We recently hosted a brown-bag lunch with three presentations. One graduate student (Nadia Pabani) presented on her work with PhotoVoice – an innovative method meant to inspire creative contributions from research participants. Another graduate student (Kendra Read) spoke about her collaboration with the national student organization Meal Exchange and the work she is doing in the area of “knowledge mobilization” – the process of turning research findings into action.

My role in this session was to present on my recent experience of taking the PeaceMeal online course. My presentation notes will give you a glimpse of my reflection on the course, but they will not quite do the justice to the course, or properly portray how the course helped me make connections between peace-building and what I do. How, one may wonder, are food security research and peace-building connected?
As it turns out, all of the food security issues noted above are indeed about those right relationships – to ourselves, to one another, to our environment… Everything we do at FoodARC is about making communities more food secure. In the process of doing that, we aim to contribute to building healthier, more vibrant communities in which “right relationships” can flourish.

Additional Information from the FoodARC website:

What is Food Insecurity?

Food Insecurity means worrying about not having enough to eat, not being able to eat the quality and variety of foods you want or need. It also means worrying about where your food comes from, what is in your food and if it is safe to eat. It is wondering whether there will be enough safe food for future generations because of the practices used to grow and produce the food.

Who does Food Security affect?

Food Security affects individuals, families and children, as well as communities.

Individuals – Each person needs to be able to obtain safe, quality nutritious foods in order to grow strong and be healthy, physically and mentally. Poor nutrition can affect the development of the mind and body and the effects can last a lifetime.

Families and children – Parents often worry about having enough food to give to their children so that they can grow up strong and healthy. When food is scarce, parents often feed their children before they feed themselves to ensure that the children receive enough food.  Some families are under constant stress as they worry whether there is enough food for dinner and the next day. This stress can harm relationships and health.

Communities – Many people are forced to leave their communities because they cannot make enough money as a farmer or fisher. In some cities, people are driven to steal or sell drugs in order to obtain food. Equity and social justice happen when everyone in a community is treated fairly and has the same opportunities in life. A healthy community is when people feel that they are a part of the community as the result of supportive public policies.

Food Security also affects:

Environment – The methods used to grow, gather, and distribute food may negatively affect the environment in many ways including: loss of natural vegetation, wiping out plants, running out of fish stocks, decreased availability of land, water and air contamination, and poorer air quality due to the oil and gas used to transport food.

Economy – Local economies may suffer if small businesses are pushed out by large-scale agri-businesses. This creates job loss and loss of money because the money we spend on food does not remain in our communities and in many cases, does not even stay in Canada.

Health – Income plays a major role in access to food and has a significant impact on food security. Not having enough money may lead to not having an adequate amount to eat and not having good quality, nutritious food. This can have short and long term effects on physical and mental health.

Food security affects everyone.

If you are having trouble trying to figure out how food security affects you, asking yourself these simple questions may help:

  • Are the foods you eat grown and produced using sustainable practices?
  • Do you ever worry about having enough money to buy the foods you want and need?
  • Is everyone in your community able to buy the foods they want and need?
  • Are the farmers that produce your food paid a fair wage? Do you buy fair trade products?
  • Do you have access to information so that you can understand how pesticides, preservatives, additives and genetically modified foods affect your health?
  • Do you ever feel judged or ashamed for where you get your food or for what food you chose to eat?
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