ISFS Food Survey asks Canadians about access and concerns during pandemic

Mon, Jul 13, 2020

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected Canadians food access and behaviour? That’s the question the Institute for Sustainable Food Systems (ISFS) at Kwantlen Polytechnic University is asking in a new survey being conducted in partnership with universities across Canada.


“The pandemic has revealed serious fragilities in the global industrial food system that many food system experts have long raised concern about,” says Kent Mullinix, director of the ISFS.


“Now the general populace has been made far more aware and have been motivated to rethink the relationship between their food system and community resiliency. Through our survey, we hope to assess citizen perception and thinking about a food system for the 21st century.”


The survey and study will contribute to the on-going discussion of the importance and urgency of creating a more reliable and resilient regional food system. The pandemic has elevated that urgency, says Mullinix.


Preliminary results from over 1,600 British Columbians suggest that a majority of consumers felt it was slightly more difficult to access food during the lockdown period. Due to the infrequent ability to shop, consumers could not access specific items in the quantity they needed. Fresh groceries, like meat, eggs and dairy products, were more difficult to get. In-store shopping was also more difficult due to self-isolating practices, physical distancing rules and limited transportation.


“The disruption of our food system caused by the pandemic represents a bit of a dress rehearsal for the kinds of disruption we can expect as a result of climate change, and perhaps global conflict and economic instabilities,” adds Mullinix.


“The impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are felt by all in our society but not equally. Those who are already vulnerable to food insecurity are hit harder than a typical person,” says Wallapak Polasub, a senior research associate at the ISFS.  


“The pandemic creates new types of vulnerability as well in terms of food access. For example, stress from catching the virus while being out could make people have fewer options about what food they can access and from where. Some may turn to unhealthy food because of ease of access or for comfort.”


The researchers hope the results will identify various issues that need further investigation, as well as increasing understanding about people’s concerns, thoughts and behaviours.


"I believe it is important to convey the hardship and difficulties faced by certain groups of people to the general public to create awareness, responsible consumption and find ways to help these people. We are only as strong as our weakest population,” adds Polasub.


The preliminary results showed 45 per cent of respondents thought their diets had changed, with 42 per cent saying they consumed more sweet and salty snacks due to being home all day, stress eating and less access to fresh fruit and vegetables due to infrequent shopping trips. Respondents in lower-income groups also found it harder to access food compared to wealthier respondents.


The survey is being conducted in partnership with universities and researchers across Canada, including Dr. Mary Beckie at the University of Alberta, Dr. Irena Knezevic at Carleton University in Ontario, Dr. Daiva Nielsen at McGill University in Quebec, and Dr. Catherine Mah at The Dalhousie University Food Policy Lab in Atlantic Canada.


The survey and study is supported by VanCity Credit Union, Univerity of Alberta – Faculty of Extension, Carleton's University Rapid Response Research program, McGill Interdisciplinary Initiative and Immunity Emergency COVID-19 Research Funding, the Canada Research Chairs program and Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.


Visit the Inter-Provincial Survey: From Food Access, Concerns and Perceptions During the COVID-19 Pandemic, 2020 web page to learn more about it and take part. The survey will close on August 15, 2020.