Food systems occur at local, national, and international scales, however, with the rise of globalization the complexity within the food system and between food system actors increases. The various actors involved from production and processing to retail and consumption, and finally in the disposal of food waste, have important roles and responsibilities to ensure just and sustainable food systems. Despite these facts, many sectors of the food systems remain isolated from others, in terms of research and resources, which enables an unequal distribution of power, knowledge, and profit in the food system. Furthermore, the neoliberal attitude of the state, in terms of food systems regulation, paired with a lack of understanding between producers, retailers, and consumers fosters unsustainable food system practices that facilitate exorbitant amounts of food waste and result in a squeeze of profits for farmers (Burch & Lawrence, 2009).
Collaborative research fosters innovation through the exchange of resources and expertise; it provides training and professional development and fosters open dialogue among industry, academia and government. In addition to sharing information, those involved in food systems collaboration are able to share the cost of research as well as the benefits. Collaborative research enables dialogue and discussion on the underlying science of regulatory issues. Readily available knowledge, equipment and expertise can be easily directed to address an unexpected food issue. For example, a research effort may be underway in the area of food processing. If a food safety issue occurred, regulators could have access to food engineering resources that could be used to identify the root cause and develop solutions rapidly to solve the issue. This is just one example of the many ways that collaborative research can bridge the gaps in the food system to ensure knowledge and resource sharing that contribute to efficient, just, and sustainable food systems. Researchers at the University of Manitoba are engaged in innovative research about all levels of the food system, yet there is a lack of cohesion across disciplines. The possibilities for collaboration are there, but the connections are rarely made. What should collaborative food systems research look like at the University of Manitoba, and how do we bridge the gaps?
The Food Systems Student Symposium (F3S), is a graduate student symposium branched from University of Manitoba’s (UoM) Food Systems Research Group which was founded in 2017. It is organized by a group of graduate students and the goal of the symposium is to highlight and share graduate student research about food systems. The purpose of F3S is to inspire innovation and encourage collaboration amongst graduate students and faculty within various departments across the UoM, with the focus on food systems. Numerous individual researchers and research programs at the UoM are already addressing several facets of food systems, whether in the department of engineering, environment and geography, food nutrition, arts, or biological science, knowledge about the food system is constantly being discovered. What is currently lacking is a coordinated approach towards establishing new research partnerships and strengthening existing research collaborations through the exchange of information and pursuit of funding opportunities. F3S provides structure, support and defined avenues for exchanging ideas and information, pursuing new research initiatives, and training graduate students in this area.