Left to Right, Top to Bottom: Anna Balsevich, Nicole Favaron, Hannah Shin, Kimberley Masters, and Elmira Tayyar

MPH group project tackles food insecurity and sovereignty for SFU students

March 16, 2021

For their HSCI 855 Health Promotion course, a group of Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS) Master of Public Health students completed a project centered around food insecurity and sovereignty for SFU students. Team Plant the Seed, consisting of Elmira Tayyar, Kimberley Masters, Hannah Shin, Anna Balsevich, and Nicole Favaron, were compelled to examine this topic after learning how food insecurity affected not only some of them, but many other SFU students as well.

“Starting a dialogue about food security led us to the realization that food insecurity impacts many of us, however the stigma and shame associated with it causes many students to endure it in silence” the team explained. “We came to the understanding that food insecurity is a collective problem and that a systems level solution is necessary to ensure that food initiatives are adequate, equitable, and sustainable.”

University students experience food insecurity due to a variety of factors including economic stress, limited access to culturally appropriate food, insufficient time due to demanding schedules, and more. While there are a number of options currently in place to help mitigate food insecurity at SFU, the team found the initiatives were often fragmented across different departments, impacting their accessibility, success and sustainability. They identified the need for a centralized approach that enhances food security and sovereignty initiatives across SFU.

“Food security and sovereignty is not just about addressing hunger but is based on many overlapping and intersecting social determinants, including but not limited to, income, housing, race and gender,” the team explained. “We realized that there is a need to increase knowledge about this topic at SFU, as there is currently a lack of research examining the prevalence of food security and food sovereignty among SFU students.”

The team’s project culminated into reaching out to stakeholders with the proposed idea of a SFU Food Systems Committee. The mandate of this proposed committee consists of a community-based, participatory approach that brings together students, faculty, and staff to critically examine barriers to food security and sovereignty at SFU. Guided by SFU’s Vision for a Healthy Campus Community and SFU’s 2025 Sustainability Plan, the proposed SFU Food Systems Committee will ensure food initiatives are accessible, equitable, and sustainable, for all students at all times.

With the help of their HSCI 855 instructor, FHS lecturer and teaching fellow Paola Ardiles, the project’s prototype was also shared with a number of staff and colleagues interested in using an equity-centered design to advance sustainability at SFU.