By: Cheryl Cheung
With the support of the University of Toronto’s Student Engagement Award, I worked with Patrick Ren and Mabel Yang on a documentary covering the impact of COVID-19 on communities in the Greater Vancouver Area. A salient way to capture such stories is through a food lens. We subsequently filmed the documentary when indoor dining reopened at the beginning of July 2021. To understand how East Asian communities have been affected by the pandemic, we also visited Richmond and Burnaby, two neighboring cities with large East Asian-Canadian populations.
We investigated the cultural and social significance of the Empire Seafood Restaurant in Richmond—a dim sum restaurant—for people of all walks of life. We interviewed staff at the Kitsilano and Mount Pleasant Vancouver Farmers Markets to understand how the pandemic impacted the accessibility of local food. And we reflected on the communal nature of meal sharing in our lives, and how routines we had taken for granted were upended due to safety precautions over the past year.
This experience taught us the significance of food security for people of different demographics. The opportunity to travel to British Columbia to juxtapose food practices in the East Asian communities has been a life changing experience for me. I was able to experience what food access was like amidst the regional COVID-19 precautions in Vancouver and compare them with my experience back home in Toronto. And, I was able to work as part of a team toward a significant goal.
Owing to the logistics of planning the trip itinerary, processing and editing the video and audio, and collaborating on a script, the documentary took many months to make. I am thankful for the support of Dr. Jayeeta Sharma for her advice on which perspectives and themes in literature to focus on during the filming, and I am grateful for the financial lent by the University of Toronto Student Engagement Award support. Without these resources and support this project would not have happened.
It is our hope that this documentary serves as a cultural reference point for viewers from across the world to understand the various experiences of food access by Canadians during the pandemic. Every time I watch it, I realize something new about the way food access has affected my personal life.
Many thanks to the Dean’s fund for making this project possible.