Tammara Soma on Reimagining Food Systems in Communities for Below the Radar

August 17, 2021

On an episode of the podcast, Below the Radar, Tammara Soma and Am Johal discuss the connections between food planning, community-engaged research, waste management and climate justice—and the ways in which we can redefine systems to create a more just and sustainable future of food. 

Tammara Soma is an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Resource and Environmental Management at SFU. She is also the co-founder and research director of the Food Systems Lab—a research and innovation hub that explores sustainable and equitable food systems. Soma was also a Researcher-in-Residence with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative from January to August 2021.

In her dissertation, Soma observed the disconnect between food production, farming, and consumption  in Indonesia, allowing her to delve into the issue of household waste. In her research she noted that often solutions surrounding household waste were merely temporary band-aid solutions rather than solutions that address the root injustices in the food system. 

For instance, giving food that would go to waste to people in need is not an equitable or sustainable way of responding to the issue. Soma understood that in order to address the root injustices within food systems the conversation had to include everyone that is involved in the food cycle. In collaboration with her colleague, Belinda Li, the Food Systems Lab was created to explore a solution that was more collaborative and equitable.

We need research that matters. We need research that can impact communities in good ways and not research that’s just going to be hidden behind a massively expensive paywall that is hard to read for community members.

"We need research that matters. We need research that can impact communities in good ways and not research that’s just going to be hidden behind a massively expensive paywall that is hard to read for community members," said Soma.

In partnership with SFU’s Community-Engaged Research Initiative, Soma and some of her students, two of which were also participants in CERi’s grad fellowship program, worked on various research projects involving food systems and community-engaged research. One of the projects was a partnership with sustainable businesses in Vancouver that explored the ways in which businesses were able to  maintain sustainability and zero waste throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In another project, she partnered with the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition to understand the issues involving food access and mobility with community members that access non-profit food hubs. She also worked on a food asset mapping project that worked alongside the community to identify important food sites and spaces in Vancouver. In this work, Soma and her colleagues worked closely with those in food production and the community to reimagine new systems that integrate various needs. 

Soma is currently part of a project with Vancouver Parks Board that aims to reimagine the local food plan. A large part of this project involves centering Indigenous voices and emphasizing Indigenous food sovereignty. She notes a feeling of optimism surrounding the conversation on food systems as it is increasingly incorporating the notion of  justice. Taking into account food justice acknowledges the oppressive structures and systems involved. This is when, as Soma suggests, we begin to address the root injustices rather than provide band-aid solutions. 

Soma shares that she comes from Indonesia where repair and fixing prioritizes rather than buying new. With this knowledge she reimagines a circular economy that nourishes skills that repair and acknowledges scale and prevention, rather than increasing production. She hopes to translate this mentality to food systems in BC to address the injustices at hand. 

Soma currently has a SSHRC funded project underway, Farm to School programming. This project leverages BC’s agricultural environment and aims to provide children with healthy and nutritious food, increase food literacy, support farmers, and shorten the food supply chain. There is an emphasis to include Indigenous food sovereignty and Indigenous food providers, particularly making that connection with Indigenous children, Indigenous focused or dominant schools.

Connect with Tammara Soma

Twitter: @TammaraSoma

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