UBC Undergraduate Research

Understanding Student Perceptions of Just, Equitable, and Dignified Food Access Moreira Gerlach, Ella; Lau, Courtney; Robinson, Chiron; Te, Nadia Mary


Project Context: Food insecurity disproportionately impacts university students as compared to the general public, an issue that is perpetuated by the increasing cost of education (Dela Cruz et al., 2020). The University of British Columbia (UBC) has continued to put resources into mitigating this issue, including the formation of the Food Security Initiative (FSI) (Board of Governors, 2020). The UBC Food Security Initiative (FSI) was formed in February 2020 to alleviate food insecurity and address long-term food sustainability alongside the UBC Wellbeing Strategic Framework (Board of Governors, 2020). FSI is planning to create a physical food hub which aims to bring a social approach to tackle food insecurity through combining knowledge, adopting new ideas and creating stronger social bonds (Board of Governors, 2020; Nelson et al., 2013). Previous research conducted by students elevated voices of food insecure UBC students on their experiences, however, little work has been done to question how students define food resources that are just, equitable and dignified (Dela Cruz et al., 2020). Overall Goals: The main purpose for this research is to gain more knowledge and understanding within the UBC community to establish a food secure, just and equitable environment by educating individuals regarding new policies, initiatives and/or advocacy opportunities. Marginalized communities were the main focus of this research study because previous research has proven that these demographics tend to be at a higher risk of being food insecure (Flores and Amiri, 2019). Specific Objectives: 1. Adding support to the understanding within the UBC community on food justice within the university context through primary and secondary research 2. Providing a platform for students to voice their perceptions and/or experiences in the growing conversation about food (in)security in post-secondary environments through focus groups and surveys 3. Co-informing the development of UBC’s “Community Food Security Framework'' 4. Providing recommendations on opportunities for policies and/or advocacy efforts to advance food justice and community food security. Methods: Student perceptions of food access were primarily collected through an online Qualtrics survey and supplemented with both an online focus group session and multiple online informal interviews. The marginalized communities included in this study were FGS, BIPoC, LGTBQ+, and students with mental and/or physical disabilities (identified as Diversabilities). Recruitment for primary research methods were done through the support of various UBC clubs, staff and through social media posts. In addition, secondary data through literature review was conducted to identify which interventions have already been planned throughout post-secondary institutions, identify knowledge gaps and provide new insights to help alleviate food insecurity. Conclusion: With n=87 survey respondents and n=4 participating in focus groups/ informal interviews, student definitions of just, equitable and dignified food access, groups shared many overlapping themes. Criticism for current UBC food resources revolved around the lack of physical, economic and cultural food access; as well as the personal and social stigmas surrounding food insecurity. Therefore, recommendations for action include 1) promoting and normalizing the use of food resources through increased education of food insecurity; 2) providing more culturally appropriate foods on campus; 3) increasing funding for widely used food resources; 4) decreasing food prices of meals; 5) relocation for current and future food resources; and 5) increased financial support for undergraduate students. Due to the lack of respondents from Black and Indigenous representing students, future research should place an emphasis on exploring perceptions of food access from these groups. Moreover, food insecurity found among First Generation Students was two times higher than the overall UBC food insecurity rate, therefore, more research in ways to help alleviate the burdens of these students would be beneficial in helping UBC Wellbeing achieve its target of reducing food insecurity at UBC by 2025. Disclaimer: “UBC SEEDS provides students with the opportunity to share the findings of their studies, as well as their opinions, conclusions and recommendations with the UBC community. The reader should bear in mind that this is a student project/report and is not an official document of UBC. Furthermore readers should bear in mind that these reports may not reflect the current status of activities at UBC. We urge you to contact the research persons mentioned in a report or the SEEDS Coordinator about the current status of the subject matter of a project/report.”

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