FSC at the CAFS Conference

Research embedded in diversity - by Abra Brynne

Good morning everyone.

As a program manager with Food Secure Canada and by personal inclination, I work on place-based food systems. It is my experience that working in community, grounded in a place, cannot help but engender an understanding of and appreciation for diversity. And particularly working at a national level, with place-based food systems across Canada, it is abundantly clear to me that there is no-one size fits all solution, description or story.

In my work I tend to default to the plural – I always speak about food systems, I am becoming more inclined to speak about food movements, and happily embrace the language of food studies. The use of the plural inherently acknowledges and respects the diversity that is both a reality of and a vital aspect of our work.  There is diversity in our ecosystems, in our human populations, in food sectors, in markets, and heaven knows, there is great diversity in the policy and regulatory realms that govern food.

Which leads me to my next point: as someone who is a consumer of, rather than actor within academia, it seems to me that it is vital that food studies be multi and trans disciplinary.

Almost 25 years ago when I started doing this work, there weren’t many people to talk to about it. We were kind of oddballs. But the hope that I have today that we can and will reclaim and reform our food systems into something that genuinely supports the resiliency of humans, animals and our ecosystems is due to the fact that it seems that everyone seems to be interested in food these days. People have realized the links between food and the environment, between food and our economies, climate change, community economic development, cultural identities, justice, trade and much more. And they have all landed on food, recognizing its central role in so very much, not just in nourishing our bodies each day.

So I propose that it is not just the diversity of our communities but also the diversity within the food movement and the broader food-concerned population that warrants many different disciplines and approaches in the academic realms that support our work, namely food studies.

And we really do need your help and support. One of the challenges of having so many enthusiastic new converts to the food movement is that we can be prone to facile solutions and shallow analysis. This can be our downfall – it can lead to disillusion when things fail, to well meaning but destructive interventions, and it certainly undermines our efforts to influence policy and the broader public when our proposals are not well founded.  And even when we are relatively seasoned food systems advocates, the complex and rapidly changing political and regulatory context is nigh on impossible for civil society and a small national non-profit like Food Secure Canada to keep on top of, to understand the implications of, and to sound the alarm for the food movement when necessary.

Food Secure Canada was birthed along side of CAFS. We value our relationship with CAFS and its members and know that together we can achieve what is necessary to build vibrant, well-fed communities across our country.

Food Secure Canada has developed and maintains a research wish list, which we make available to those who are interested in and wish to support our work. We also seek relationships with academics and analysts who can help us with rapid responses to urgent matters. And we value the longer-term research that helps us all to understand important trends, needs and possibilities for our communities and food systems. 

I would like to end with an observation related to diversity from my train ride down here yesterday. I have never been to this part of Ontario before and so was quite excited to view the countryside on the trip from Toronto to St Catharine’s. As someone who grew up in an orchard, I was delighted to see so many fruit trees. And as someone who has spent many years with organic standards and certification, I couldn’t help but notice that many of them were not organic orchards. You can tell when an orchard is not under organic management by the dead zones around each tree. In conventional orchards, all other plant life is eradicated from under the tree, seen only as competitors. In an organic orchard, the plant life under the tree is carefully tended and managed, understanding that a vibrant and diverse ecosystem under the tree helps to ensure that the soil is healthy, that there is habitat for beneficial insects, and that the tree will ultimately thrive as one part of a living community, not as an isolated competitor.