Students improving life: Building inclusivity through improved food access in rural communities | Ontario Agricultural College

Students improving life: Building inclusivity through improved food access in rural communities

Posted on Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

Written by Tahlia Dyer

Head shot of Serena Viola.

Serena Viola’s research on accessing culturally significant foods in rural Ontario provides some food for thought.

As a capacity development and extension student, her research is looking at how to make rural communities more inclusive. She believes that food is a crucial starting point.

“When people make and prepare food, it really translates to culture and that is home,” says Serena. “Food can be viewed as an opportunity to build on the importance of cultural representation and inclusivity in rural communities.”

Serena gained a better understanding about the link between food, culture and accessibility during her undergraduate degree at the University of Toronto. 

“Diasporic Foodways, a class in my 4th year spearheaded this whole thesis,” says Serena. “The class discussed the anthropology of food and how it’s evolved over time, especially the significant changes after the agricultural revolution.”

Serena had never studied food through an anthropological lens or knew much about it. Learning about it really sparked a sense of curiosity in her. 

“Now that we have an industrialized society and people are moving more constantly, food is moving more constantly. I want to know, what does that mean and what impact does it have.”

She is examining if rural communities have less, equal, or more access to diasporic foodways. Diasporic foodways explore diaspora communities, any group that has been dispersed outside its traditional homeland by migration or involuntarily, and their connections to the cultural and economic practices relating to food.

Serena is working with her advisor Dr. Al Lauzon, a professor in the School of Environmental Design and Rural Development, to conduct interviews with residents in Meaford, Ontario to learn about diasporic foodways in the community.

“Part of what we are looking at is working with local municipalities and food providers such as farmers and local shops to help them better understand the needs of the community,” says Serena. "It’s in the best interest of the community that these needs are met. Rural communities can provide culturally significant food for people moving into those areas and help with rural immigration retention."

Serena hopes that that this project will teach others who have not heard about or experienced diasporic foodways and support more inclusive practices in rural communities.

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