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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Cultivating food justice in Vancouver, BC Hamdon, Carly


Food Justice activism transforms poor communities of colour in the United States by increasing access to fresh, nutritious food. While the language of food justice has been incorporated into Canada, few studies have empirically analyzed how Canadian food activists interpret its central tenets and goals. I interviewed volunteers, committee members, and the lead organizer of a justice-oriented local food organization that implemented an emergency food program in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside during the 2020-2021 COVID-19 pandemic. My findings show that participants understand and enact food justice in two different but complementary ways. First, participants respond to the stigma that free food recipients face by strategically redefining the meaning of free food recipients. This redefinition occurs through four mechanisms of destigmatization: combining social categories, removing blame, drawing equivalences, and restoring agency. Second, when conceptualizing an ideal local food organization, participants demonstrate a thick democratic imagination. Specifically, they visualize a grassroots, anti-bureaucratic, and culturally inclusive food hub that facilitates food education through a community kitchen and garden. Moreover, participants prioritize Indigenous led-food initiatives and systems, revealing a thick and imaginative democratic imagination. The significance of these findings is twofold. On the one hand, my research reveals how the availability of symbolic resources (e.g., the concept of a shared community) facilitates the destigmatization of low-status groups. On the other hand, my research demonstrates that food activists on Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside have thick democratic imaginations and that these imaginations expand when accounting for Indigenous reconciliation. Altogether these findings show that while interpretations of food justice are contextual, it retains its transformative potential.

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