The Importance of Social Eating

Canadian Alliance for Social Connection and Health

The Canadian Alliance for Social Connection and Health (CASCH) undertook a study to understand the role of food traditions and social eating in strengthening BC’s community social services sector, promoting social inclusion.

About the Report

Goals

Implemented by the Canadian Alliance for Social Connection and Health (CASCH), the Nourish Study focused on understanding the role of social eating and the implementation of culturally sensitive food services within communities. This community-based research involved conducting interviews with both recipients and providers of food services. The primary objectives were three fold:

  1.  To understand the role that culturally appropriate food traditions food plays in facilitating social participation, volunteerism, service utilization, social cohesion, food security, and food sustainability;
  2.  To identify community assets (e.g., organizations, events, and services) across BC that practice food traditions and social eating; and
  3.  To explore the facilitators and barriers to implementing culturally appropriate food traditions and social eating practices.

Methods

To accomplish these aims, we conducted a mixed methods study In the quantitative phase, we conducted an online survey participants to (a) explore the relationship between food and social needs and (b) identify correlates of social eating. Following quantitative data collection, we conducted focus groups among individuals with diverse food practices and traditions. Focus groups were conducted via Zoom and lasted approximately 60-90 minutes. These discussions explored their experiences with social eating, its importance, and some of the challenges that arise as a result of social eating. Additionally, we interviewed key informants engaged as staff or volunteers in the food services sector. These interviews explored from a programming perspective the facilitators and challenges posed by social eating and food insecurity and how these can be overcome. Finally, we undertook to identify exemplary food service programs that incorporate social eating as a key component. These case studies included discussions with key informants (as described above) but also included document reviews and site visits.

Results

Results from these studies demonstrated that while individuals understand social eating to be an important part of identity and culture – including as a tool to build cross-cultural ties – there are many barriers to social eating and these settings can often serve to engender a sense of exclusion due to a wide range of cultural and economic barriers. Overcoming these barriers requires thoughtful attention to the goals and motives of social eating, the ways in which social eating is accomodated, and how people with diverse nutritional needs and preferences are accomodated. Community-based, participatory approaches to the development of social eating can help ensure these necessary and improtant steps are taken.

To learn more about this research project and its findings, view the entire body of work here:

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