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Alyna De Guzman, Resource and Environmental Management

May 17, 2022

Alyna De Guzman, an undergraduate student studying Resource and Environmental Management (REM) often asks herself how she can best serve her community – and for her, that is by supporting access to food.

De Guzman spent her childhood in Manila, Philippines. In the capital city, there is a significant wealth gap, and for many, quality food is not always accessible.

“As a kid, you may not fully understand what struggles people are facing, or why,” says De Guzman. “But now, as I begin understanding the interconnectedness of factors and their ripple effects, I wonder what I can do to address them. I think witnessing the conditions of food insecurity first hand is part of what makes me so invested in food systems.”

De Guzman first began examining these systems in the class of Tammara Soma, assistant professor in the REM program and research director and co-founder of the Food Systems Lab. De Guzman enjoyed assessing environmental issues with both scientific and social lenses and credits her growing interest in food to Soma’s teaching.

Motivated by her own observation of gaps in our local food systems and barriers to accessibility, she is invested in tackling the complex and interconnected problems that cause food insecurity.

“Our current food system has a lot of problems. It’s very susceptible, as we saw with things like COVID and the 2021 floods. My goals and interests are really in finding different approaches to create stronger and more reliable food systems.”

Cultural Connections

When De Guzman immigrated to Canada at the age of 9, she describes a sense of culture shock, but local cultural food hubs, such as the cluster of Filipino restaurants and businesses in Vancouver’s Joyce-Collingwood neighbourhood, have helped her find a sense of home.

“It’s not just eating food I would otherwise only find in the Philippines,” De Guzman says. “It’s the smell of the spices, hearing background chatter in Tagalog, meeting other people saying Kuya and Ate (terms of respect and courtesy used to address older siblings or peers)–it brings me so much joy. These places are a little slice that brings me back to my hometown.”

These hubs, which play key roles as both local food systems and spaces for cultural connection, are currently at risk of disappearing due to redevelopment. “Decision makers might not know how important something is to a community, and so an area is rezoned. It’s so crucial to listen and learn what people consider an asset.”

This semester, De Guzman will begin a co-op term with BC Housing’s People, Plants and Homes Program, a therapeutic horticulture and food security program supporting well-being and food access for those in need.

Eventually, she would like to learn more about traditional knowledge back in the Philippines.

“There’s a vast world that I’ve yet to understand. I want to adopt a better understanding of the lands and waters that have raised and provided for myself and my ancestors,” De Guzman says. “I want to learn about plants and ingredients native to the Philippines, learn the responsible ways that people have taken care of them and developed delicious recipes or beautiful creations. I want to learn all of that and find my role in supporting others.”

Celebrate Asian Heritage Month at SFU, with events including Global Asia Talks: Food Justice in Focus, featuring Tammara Soma, Mercedes Eng, Yi Chien Jade Ho, Yarrow Intergenerational Society for Justice and the DTES SRO Collaborative.

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