Understanding How School Communities are Addressing Issues Related to Food Insecurity in Rural Nova Scotia

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Read, Kendra Lauren
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Mount Saint Vincent University
Background: In 2012, 17.5% of households in Nova Scotia reported experiencing food insecurity. For households with children under the age of 18, food insecurity reportedly affected 21.2% of the Nova Scotian population in this same year. For students and families experiencing this reality in Nova Scotia, living in poverty has been shown to negatively influence food accessibility and dietary intake, which can contribute to poor health and weight status, especially for children. While the province has many nutrition and health-related initiatives in place and recognizes the need to create supportive health environments for all residents, limited information about how to create such environments exists. This is especially true for students and families experiencing food insecurity in rural areas of the province. Purpose: This thesis explicated the social relations, social organizations, forces and factors, values, beliefs and ideologies, and ruling elements related to food insecurity within rural NS through gathering experiences and stories from parent participants and school community participants from two elementary school communities in Eastern Shelburne County. This assisted with understanding how school communities are addressing issues related to food insecurity in rural Nova Scotia, including how school communities can support students and families who experience this issue to achieve food security. Methods: The design of this qualitative study was largely rooted in tenets of Institutional Ethnography. Two elementary school communities within Eastern Shelburne County were the primary sites of interest. Data collection involved individual interviews with parent and school community participants, document review, and to a lesser extent, a reflection of the researcher’s personal experiences and observations. Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Model and tenets of Institutional Ethnography were used to inform data analysis and interpretation. Findings: The findings of this thesis captured the daily, lived experiences of food insecurity for students and families, along with the perceptions of food insecurity as shared by individuals who, through their work with elementary schools and community-based organizations within the school community, support these students and families. These accounts revealed that there are various types of social organizations, and forces and factors that exist within the school community that maintain efforts to support students and families who experience issues related to food insecurity through ruling elements that carry ideological messages about nutrition and health. These findings revealed that food affordability, food availability, food accessibility, and the use of food-related supports are the primary social relations related to food insecurity most often influenced by social organizations, and forces and factors that exist within society. Ultimately, this research highlighted how and why food insecurity works within these two school communities of Eastern Shelburne County and how various forces and factors within each school community influence the food-related decisions/behaviours made by individuals and families. Conclusions & Recommendations: Rural residency, low-income, and lack of access to personal and/or public transportation are the primary issues that shape the social relations and coping strategies related to the experience of food insecurity. Social organizations including elementary schools, charitable food assistance programs, social support networks, and financial assistance programs are supports used by students and families who experience issues related to food insecurity. Many of these social organizations use ruling to govern the food-related decisions/behaviours made by students and families who experience issues related to food insecurity. In order to create more supportive environments in Eastern Shelburne County for these students and their families, various forces and factors, and social organizations within these school communities and our society must be provided with opportunities to learn about the reality of food insecurity and recognize how the ways in which they impart ruling or promote food-related ideals impact those who struggle with food insecurity.
Food insecurity , Children , Schools , Rural , Nova Scotia