Newcomers, Food Insecurity, and Pathways Forward

A trip to KPU farm, spring 2023

This summer marked the successful culmination of an exciting and important research partnership between PIRS and the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University (KPU). With funding from the Vancouver Foundation and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), we embarked on a groundbreaking project that focused on local food access among newcomers to Canada in the Metro Vancouver area. In this blog post, we share the highlights of our successes, the methodology that made this project special, and key lessons that can help us all move the needle on ensuring food security for all newcomers.

Understanding the Challenges

The physical and mental well-being, as well as the sense of belonging and agency, of immigrant and refugee women heavily depend on nutrition and community participation. However, they often face numerous challenges in a new country, including navigating unfamiliar food systems and systemic barriers such as limited income, traumatic experiences, low literacy levels, and childcare responsibilities. In this project, we wanted to understand the root causes of food insecurity and how the current policy and services support newcomers.

Grounded in Lived Experience

At the heart of our project was the model of centering the women with lived experience. We formed the Immigrant Women Food Policy Group (IWFPG) to engage those directly affected by food insecurity. The group convened 12 migrant women from around the world, including South America, Central and South Asia, the Middle East, and East Africa. The participants have been in Canada for 1-20 years.

The IWFPG played a pivotal role by providing their lived experiences to inform our research, while the research team supported them in learning about food policy and self-advocacy. Through this collaborative approach, we built strong relationships with stakeholders from various sectors, including service providers, business owners, academics, health authorities, and government leaders.

Immigrant Women Food Policy Group and KPU Research Team

To further amplify the voices and experiences of newcomer women, we organized two stakeholder engagement events in April and May 2023 – one in Surrey and one in Vancouver. During these events, the participants of the IWFPG shared their personal stories and experiences of navigating the food systems in Metro Vancouver. Research findings were also presented.

Prior to the events, participants received capacity building training around policy-making processes and facilitation and leadership skills, enabling them to effectively engage in dialogue with stakeholders. 

A total of 80 attendees joined the events to discuss ways to implement research recommendations and help shape our action plans. 

Vancouver Stakeholder Engagement Event held at South Vancouver Neighbourhood House, May 6, 2023

1. The top 5 root causes of food insecurity among newcomers are poverty, language barrier, racism, requirement for Canadian experience for employment, and lack of social networks. Poverty is a barrier that is experienced by both Canadian born and newcomer populations. However, language, racism, Canadian experience and social network are additional barriers faced by newcomers. 

2. Social network and social support systems are crucial for newcomers. Currently, many service providers are focused on emergency food initiatives. More work is needed to address systemic barriers by facilitating programs that would help newcomers build social capital to improve newcomers’ long-term health outcomes. 

3. Our research confirmed that newcomer food insecurity is a matter of great importance currently and will continue to be, especially with a projection of 1.5 million new residents to be invited by the Canadian government by 2025. Forging a better path forward will require strong collaboration between all parties involved, including the different levels of government, service providers, community members, those with lived experience to  create policy change. 

Most importantly, the public needs to understand that to address the problem of food insecurity is not just about donating food. We must advocate for a long-term solution so that newcomers do not need to depend on charities and can access food with dignity. 

Next Steps

Addressing food insecurity among newcomers requires a holistic approach that goes beyond short-term solutions. By understanding the root causes, prioritizing collaboration, advocating for policy change, and investing in sustainable programs, we can create a future where all newcomers to Canada have equal access to nutritious food and the opportunity to thrive in their new home.

Here are some resources to help you learn more and support the cause:

  • Watch Newcomers and New Entrant Farmers video to hear the stories of the dedicated farmers who curate produce boxes for newcomers to Canada, and listen to the recipients as they share how these boxes have contributed to their sense of belonging and aided in alleviating food insecurity.

  • Follow and support Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks. It is a network of community organizations committed to promoting food security in neighborhoods across the City of Vancouver through education, skills building and advocacy.

Photography by Natalia Botero, 2023.