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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Working the system to change the system? : analyzing intersections between the food movement and health establishment in British Columbia Mundel, Erika


This dissertation looks at two provincial health-based programs (the Community Food Action Initiative and the Food Security Core Program in Public Health) in British Columbia (BC) that intersect with this province’s vibrant and diverse food movement. Drawing on a critical and interpretive approach to research, and using qualitative research methods, this study analyzes these two programs according to: a) the health institutional dynamics that shape them; b) the programs’ implications for BC’s food movement; and c) the contribution of program activities to food system transformation. It argues that critical public health discourses have provided a pathway into health for these food-system-oriented programs, a pathway with many obstacles given the powerful role neoliberal and biomedical discourses play in shaping the health establishment. The capacity of these programs to contribute to BC’s food movement has therefore been mixed. Facilitated by these programs, health staff and grassroots activists have been able to collaborate on a range of initiatives to move BC’s food movement forward. However, limited funds, staff time, and institutional supports for these programs constrain this movement-supportive activity. The dissertation further suggests that these programs can be seen as microcosms of the broader BC (and North American) food movement, contributing to a range of food movement practices that are both more and less challenging of the status quo. For example, on the one hand, program activities risk reifying the local or unreflexively accepting neoliberal constraints, while on the other the programs contribute to critical consciousness raising, political reskilling, and challenging dominant discourses. The dissertation suggests that the transformative potential of these programs could further be strengthened through the conscious cultivation of collaborative praxis amongst program implementers and other BC food movement activists.

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