The Research Questions Behind this Workbook

The food security research projects involved many different activities and studies, all aimed at answering four important questions about food security:

  1. How much does a basic nutritious diet cost in Nova Scotia?
  2. What is life like for people who don’t have enough nutritious food?
  3. What is being done to deal with food insecurity and to build long-term solutions?
  4. What more can we do to improve food security?

Research Question 1: How much does a basic nutritious diet cost in Nova Scotia?

In 1988, a study was done by the Nova Scotia Nutrition Council to answer this question. The study showed that people living on a low income could not afford to eat nutritiously. Since 1988, however, not much had been done to follow-up on this work. With the cost of living, and of food, constantly increasing and changing, partners of the food security projects recognized the need to update this information to help inform policy. But more than just updating the figures, the partners also wanted to find a way to keep the information current by having the question answered on a regular basis and to use approaches that would result in building capacity to work together to address the root causes of food insecurity. The approach taken was to work together with the staff and participants of Family Resource Centres/Projects to do “food costing” research in each region of the province and to support their participation by providing training, honoraria and covering expenses for travel and childcare. The outcome was not only a current overview of what it costs to eat nutritiously in Nova Scotia, but also a group of trained “food costers” — with the commitment and interest to continue to work together to build food security by informing how best to use this evidence to influence policy.

Detailed reports and summaries of each piece of the research described below can be found on the Nova Scotia Nutrition Council’s ( or Atlantic Health Promotion Research Centre’s websites (

Research Question 2: What is life like for people who don’t have enough nutritious food?

Many of the people who worked on the food costing project know from personal experience that the cost of a nutritious diet is too high for many people to afford. The project partners, including the food costers, thought that capturing stories of people’s experiences dealing with food insecurity would be important in making meaning of the food costing data. It was felt that these stories, along with the food costing data, could be a powerful tool in advocating for policy changes that would build food security. The stories would also allow all Nova Scotians to gain a better understanding of the struggles and hardships people dealing with food insecurity face in their everyday lives.

To answer the question about what life is like for people facing food insecurity, women who had participated as food costers and others from each region came together to share their stories in “story sharing workshops” that were held throughout the province. They worked together to identify the problems and what causes them, to think about what food insecurity means to them, and to decide what needs to be done.

Some of the quotes you’ll see throughout the workbook come from the story sharing workshops held across the province. The quotes show how this issue affects the lives of many Nova Scotians. We thank everyone who came to the workshops for their generosity in sharing their experiences and insights with us.

Research Question 3: What is being done to deal with food insecurity and to build long-term solutions?

Many of the food security issues that were identified in the food costing and story sharing pieces of this research point to both problems and solutions in government policy. This has highlighted the need to find ways of dealing with the immediate impact of food insecurity on people’s lives as well as looking for long-term solutions. Looking at existing policy as well as potential policy changes to make sure that public policy actually improves food security, can lead the way to effective long-term solutions.

The project partners thought the best way to answer this question was to ask people working on food security across Canada to share their experiences on trying to influence policy. To do this, a national advisory committee was formed and a survey was sent out asking people about the strategies they used. More detailed information was found by talking directly to some of these people. The findings of this scan told how people have tried to influence policy, what worked, what didn’t, what challenges they faced, and what they learned. As well, they shared some tips for influencing policy. Some of the findings of this research are in the Influencing policy section of this workbook.

Research Question 4:What more can we do to improve food security?

The people who have been working on the food security projects in Nova Scotia want to do something with the findings. They are eager to make a difference in their communities and influence policy that will make all Nova Scotians more food secure. The National partners also want to take this information and use it to influence policy in their own areas and to try to make a difference at a National level.

The food costing data and stories collected through this research have been translated into evidence for informing policy. The participatory research process that was used to collect this evidence has also resulted in a growing commitment to address food insecurity in Nova Scotia. The Office of Health Promotion in Nova Scotia has provided funding to the project partners to develop a model for ongoing food costing and policy tools to continue to build food security in Nova Scotia.

This workbook is also part of the next step in answering the question— What more can we do to improve food security?. Partners involved in the projects from Nova Scotia and across Canada wanted a workbook to help guide them through their dialogues on food security. The workbook has been informed by input from individuals and groups from diverse backgrounds from across Canada. Two National Dialogues have been held to get input from people across the country and get new partners involved in these projects. Dialogues have also been happening in communities throughout Nova Scotia where people have started figuring out what to do about the food security issues that are most important to their communities. The workbook has also been pilot tested by eleven people working with diverse communities— youth, First Nations, public health, urban planning, and participants of the Community Action Program for Children and Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program—in eight provinces and one territory. A web accessible ( version of the workbook has also been pilot tested. As a result of attempting to answer the question “What more can we do to improve food security?” the workbook has evolved and community-based action plans to build food security through policy at the local level are in the works throughout the country.

The partners in Nova Scotia and across Canada are building on these accomplishments through the funding provided by the CAPC/CPNP National Projects Fund. Thought About Food? is also available in French under the title La nourriture, vous y avez pensé? and we will be working with CAPC/CPNP Food Security Mentors across the country to develop a video to complement the workbook.

We hope that this workbook will be used as a basis for community actions across the country. We know that these projects — and this workbook — will grow in response to local experiences.

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