UBC Theses and Dissertations

UBC Theses Logo

UBC Theses and Dissertations

Focus on food : a study of food culture among Vancouver secondary school students Shulhan, Stephanie


The industrial model of agriculture and food systems has led to environmental and soil degradation, loss of biodiversity, and an increase in the prevalence and availability of inexpensive processed foods that are high in calories and fats but low in micro-nutrients (Lang & Heasman, 2002; Muller, Schoonover, & Wallinga, 2007). The transition to a healthier and more sustainable food system will require increased involvement from various stakeholders participating constructively in all aspects of the food system. Promoting this kind of food citizenship among young people, in venues such as public schools, holds great potential for facilitating broader food systems change (Rojas et al., 2011). To do this requires an understanding of young peoples’ current eating and food-related practices and the influences on those practices, including the deeper meanings ascribed to different types of food selections and behaviours. The Focus on Food study reported here seeks to understand food culture among grade 9 and 10 students in Vancouver, as well as how they frame their food choices. I conducted small semi-structured focus groups during which student participants discussed their lunch selections and typical eating behaviours, their perceived influences on those behaviours, and their experiences and opinions about various ways of eating that resonated with them. The study found that participants often framed food as either “good” (usually harmless) or “bad” (often coinciding with being harmful) products. Most participants said that they valued natural foods and ingredients, whereas they were suspicious of those that seemed artificial or unfamiliar. Participants described attempts to avoid or resist “bad” foods and to seek out “good” ones, and many wanted more information about and/or control over the foods available to them. Some participants expressed dissatisfaction with disengaged eating experiences (like fast food consumption), and said that they would prefer more engaged food experiences, such as preparing and enjoying their own “good” food. Initiatives to promote healthy, sustainable, and enjoyable eating should continue to engage students in constructive and hands-on food-related learning activities, during which they can acquire skills and knowledge while positively contributing to human and ecological health.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada