Knowledge Mobilizers: SFU food sustainability researcher tackles food security issues

January 22, 2021

Knowledge Mobilizers is a story series from the Knowledge Mobilization Hub that highlights knowledge mobilization (KM) projects around the university. At SFU, KM is about collaborating on, and exchanging, research discoveries to create a positive impact in our far-reaching communities.

Speaking up and speaking out in creative and accessible ways is how Tammara Soma, Resource and Environmental Management professor, is building her career and helping change the world’s food system to one that is more just and sustainable.

Currently, enough food is produced to feed the world’s population yet we continue to see millions of people facing hunger. We have also witnessed the increasing loss of prime farmland and biodiversity, in a context where food justice for Indigenous peoples, migrant farm workers and other equity deserving communities are still lacking. Soma has dedicated her life and her career to address these complex problems.

The Food Systems Lab, co-founded by Soma, is one of the many initiatives this early career academic launched before completing her doctorate in 2018. The lab explores ways to “reduce food waste and support a sustainable food system that enhances ecosystems, conserves natural resources, and mitigates climate change.”

Soma started mobilizing knowledge on food system issues during her graduate degree through the SSHRC Storyteller challenge, interviews with news outlets, contributing to news blogs, and connecting with community organizations such as Farm Folk City Folk and Farm to School Canada. She takes inspiration from successful YouTube influencers and creates whimsical content to address complex problems in digestible formats.

Soma’s knowledge mobilization priority is to influence policy, and she describes her approach to this as “like a dandelion, dispersing little seeds all over the place.” She’s found that the more she shares her research in different settings and formats, the more invitations she receives to keep sharing. She has received invitations to contribute to food waste initiatives locally and globally by institutions such as the U.S. National Academies of Science, Government of Japan, Government of Indonesia, and Government of Canada. In addition, her knowledge mobilization has resulted in numerous invitations to collaborate on research from academic colleagues around the world. These collaborations have been instrumental in her gaining research funding, fostering research partnerships, and developing joint publications.

Soma explains that when you thrive on connection, want to solve the world’s wicked problems, and are an academic, you naturally become a knowledge mobilizer. She is proud to share her expertise on food waste and food justice in an accessible way despite an academic once criticizing her work for being too accessible, that “even my grandmother could understand this” (a knowledge mobilizer’s dream critique!)

Soma credits her accessible communication in part to English being her second language and her wanting to make sure that her research makes an impact and can influence public understanding. Soma shares that for her “science is the base, but knowledge mobilization is the key” to achieving a just and sustainable food system.

Want to learn more about knowledge mobilization?

Register now for one of our knowledge mobilization workshops, or join us for “Unlock Your Research Impact” a lunch & learn series where each month we feature a new a ‘how to’ introduction to different knowledge mobilization (KM) activities.