A Recipe for Success: Increasing Food Access for Newcomer Families in Canada

As we enter 2023, the issue of food access remains a crucial concern for our community. In the past year, thanks to the support of dedicated partners, we have made significant strides on the path of addressing food insecurity for newcomer families. Building on this progress, we look forward to continuing this important work and making an even greater impact in the year ahead.

“Life in a new country is like a chili pepper – very spicy!” – Food Access Research Study Participant

For newcomer families, accessing food can be a challenge, made even more difficult by the pandemic. According to a needs assessment we conducted in 2020, food security was one of the top priorities, as many families reported loss of income, financial and housing instability and were struggling to meet their basic needs. For many, the pandemic is not over yet and food access is still a challenge. To help bridge the gap, PIRS is continuing to partner with local Food Banks and other community organizations to facilitate food access for immigrant and refugee families that need it most.

In 2022, PIRS emergency Food Hubs served 448 people weekly, distributing 3,679 food hampers to families in need.

However, to address food insecurity we need to do more than just providing food. It’s about empowering individuals and communities, and breaking down the barriers that prevent them from thriving, while also making changes in the way food is grown, produced and distributed.

Growing Together

In 2021, we partnered with the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU) on research around local food access among newcomers in Metro Vancouver. The results of the study highlighted that newcomers face unique challenges within our local food system and need inclusive and culturally appropriate access points to learn how to navigate it. As a result, we started The Food Skills for Immigrant and Refugee Women program to support newcomer families in learning how to prepare and cook new and unfamiliar foods while developing nutritional knowledge and budgeting skills. However, to help participants better understand the food system, we believe that the program needs to extend beyond the kitchen and into the garden. 

Thanks to the Metro Vancouver Agricultural Awareness Grant, program participants have the opportunity to visit local farms and gain a deeper understanding of how the food is grown, while also learning about the land that provides it. As Valerie, our Program Manager for Outreach, Family and Children’s Programs, said in the Metro Vancouver Agricultural Awareness Grant 2022 video

“We also want to teach them and guide them to try growing food at their own home, in community gardens… to build a support network that they can cook together, share meals together, do gardening together and that can increase their sense of belonging in Canada”.

Planting Seeds of Change

Introducing meaningful change to the food system is another important ingredient of success to address the root causes of food insecurity for newcomer and immigrant communities. This means working together with schools, government, and most importantly, people and groups who are directly affected by these issues: newcomer families and community-based organizations. To do just that, we continue to collaborate with the KPU’s research team on a new participatory research project to examine social determinants of food access, food literacy, and food system participation, thanks to funding from the Vancouver Foundation.

At the center of this project, the Immigrant Women Food Policy Group (IWFPG) is working hard to make sure that immigrant and refugee women have equal access to healthy food options and a voice in shaping food policy. Group members explore their lived experiences to understand the systemic food-related barriers that immigrant and refugee women face in Canada, while also researching local food policies. Alongside them, the KPU team is conducting research with service providers, policy makers and government officials to further understand the issue. But the project doesn’t just gather information, it is also taking action by sharing the findings. 

One of the ways the IWFPG is doing this is by providing capacity building training and support to its members, so they can engage with key food system stakeholders (planners, local businesses, and service providers). In the spring, the group will be facilitating three stakeholder engagement meetings in different municipalities where IWFPG members will share research findings, their own stories, and facilitate small group discussions to collect policy recommendations.

At the end of the project, the IWFPG will also be developing action plans to reduce food-related barriers for immigrant and refugee women through culturally relevant, trauma-informed, and community-based practices.

As we’ve seen, increasing food access for newcomer families is a complex issue that requires a multifaceted approach. Providing food directly through food banks and food hubs can address the immediate need and create a vital lifeline for families in need. However, to create lasting change, we need to address the underlying issues that lead to food insecurity among newcomers. This requires inclusive, empowering, and culturally relevant programs and collaborations to allow newcomer families build the skills and connections they need to thrive in their new communities, while also involving them in decision-making processes when it comes to creating change in the food system at large. We are committed to this work and grateful to our dedicated partners and donors who make it possible: