YVR Millennial Spotlight with Kaitlyn: “There is the perception that Vancouver millennials can’t survive here in terms of being able to establish a life because of social problems related to housing affordability, your job prospects, etc.”

Kaitlyn Fung (Twitter: @kaitlynfungi)
Age: 22 | Profession: Community Food Liaison

When the world is focused on labeling millennials as attention-seeking, selfie lovers – there is Kaitlyn to prove that there are indeed millennials that exist who care about others and perform selfless acts to better the world around them. Kaitlyn is an inspiration. She works everyday to find solutions to food insecurity, and she also is engaged with local politics to do what she can to create change in the oppressive systems that exist today.

Read more about Kaitlyn’s thoughts on our generation below in today’s Millennial Spotlight –
VANCOUVER EDITION!

1. What traits do you have that you think you share with other millennials?
There are a couple of things I can say but I’ll say these two: I really value experience. I think alot of millennials are really focused on doing things for the experience of it which is really embodied by travelling, going to a museum or cool exhibit or trying the coolest food trend which are all experience based activities. We really like to share these experiences on social media. I don’t really feel like always sharing, but I do value experiences the way that other people do. I share the desire to have experiences to enjoy life experiences as an activity, but something that’s different about me is that I don’t always feel like I should be sharing everything.

The other thing is that I worry alot about the future. I think I have this in common with other millennials. I am anxious about what the future holds because there’s alot of uncertainty.

2. How do you think people perceive Vancouver millennials? Do you agree/disagree?
I think people see us similar to millennials in any other location. But here we joke about how millennials are all broke, anxious, messes. That we all don’t know what we’re doing. There’s this image that millennials are all overcome with anxiety about the future and our current situation. Basically that we’re all screwed. For example, the lack of affordable housing here and how hard it is to get a job contribute to that. People will meet you and think: “haha you’re screwed. Good luck with your life”. There’s kind of a pessimism towards millennials – like our future is wrecked. So I think that’s how older generations see us, and then we ourselves internalize that idea but it’s not necessarily true. When other people tell us that our future is shitty then we start to believe that and feel that way. This is the narrative that is being pushed, but I don’t think that’s actually true, or that it has to be true. It can be better!

There is the perception that Vancouver millennials can’t survive in terms of being able to establish a life here because of social problems related to housing affordability, your job prospects, etc. Alot of people are leaving and going further east or out of the country to the states. There’s tons of people that I personally know who moved away for school or work. There is the possibility that they will come back, but they also may not.

3. Can you tell me a little bit about your work as a Community Food Liason?
As a Community Food Liason, my job is to coordinate, support and deliver community food programs and projects. For example, I will organize community kitchen sessions or classes to teach different food skills like canning or preserving food. This helps people build capacities for themselves so they can better feed and support themself on their own. We also support the maintenance of local community green spaces and gardens. I will work with volunteers to help them run their garden throughout the season. I also help with programs to help people reduce their food insecurities. In addition, we organize events, opportunities and resources for people to learn more about topics on food security or food justice.

What I mean about food justice is: why is food so unnaffordable in some communities, and why is it harder for some people to access food than others? If someone comes to me saying that they can’t afford food, I think about solutions to answer that problem, how they can overcome these barriers and why they are in that position in the first place. I am mainly working on removing these barriers and making our food system more equitable for everyone.

4. Do you think millennials are food insecure?
I don’t see millennials as my clients, but I do think they are food insecure. In university, tons of people have to access our school food bank. People joke about always eating ramen or cooking out of their coffee filters because they are so broke and we don’t think of that as food insecure but that is exactly what it means to be food insecure. Even if we don’t think about it that way and don’t seek out services to help them address these issues, it should be relevant to us. The work that I do is to alleviate that, but I don’t see alot of millennials accessing our services. Maybe because there’s a stigma or other factors. Basically food insecurity can affect everyone – not just seniors or families. It can affect millennials too and people don’t think of it that way.

5. You brought me to the University of British Columbia rooftop gardens (“Roots on the Roof”) that contains herbs and even a KALE forest! Do you think our generation is becoming increasingly involved in green spaces and urban gardens?
Yes. I think we are and I think this is part of a larger trend. Urban agriculture (these rooftop gardens, backyard gardens, and community gardens that are in small-scale urban spaces) is a hugely popular trend especially with young people. I think in the past few years, food and sustainability (like going green) has become a larger trend as the global attention has focused more on climate change and the effects of human activity on the planet. How do we reduce our carbon footprint, protect the environment, and respect the land and communities that live here meaningfully? All of this has become a trend and this includes urban agriculture.

A quick example I can give of this within Vancouver is that within the past decade, gardens in elementary and high schools have popped up everywhere. Now every other school has a garden for students to be involved in. These are all indicators of a rising urban agriculture trend.

6. Is this helping to alleviate food insecurity?
No. It’s complicated. I think that in the short-term, yes. But in the long-term, no. In the short-term, these urban agriculture pop ups are really great for connecting people back with thinking about food and where it comes from. I think having these urban agriculture spaces does really well as educational, introductory spaces for thinking about our relationship to the land. As a side note, I think it’s important to think about our relationship with Indigenous peoples and their claim to the land. As I talk about this, it’s really important to acknowledge that this is a practice that Indigenous people have been doing since the beginning of time. Respecting that and honouring that is really important for decolonization. Alot of the school gardens that I mentioned become outdoor classes (i.e. for science and creative writing classes).

In the long-term, I think that in Vancouver specifically, we notice that urban agriculture is something that is new, cool, and innovative. It is “sexy” and it looks good in a photo-op. Politicians love giving money to these kind of projects, but the problem with that is that they are not thinking deeper and connecting with people that actually have food insecurity. These garden spaces are not helping these people. Is one small community garden plot going to sustain someone and their family? No. In the city, almost all of our urban agriculture projects can never get to a big enough scale to produce food to support families. There just isn’t the space, time and resources to do this in the city. Even with community gardens, you still have to spend money on food outside of the food that you’re growing. It’s not a permanent, long-term solution. There’s no capacity and scale to support everyone sustainably.

Even though this is a problem, urban agriculture still looks good and it gets alot of attention and money. I think this is a bandage solution and not a permanent solution. Other things like focusing on food policy or food programs will make stronger, incremental steps to reducing food insecurity in the long-term. Those things lose money and attention when we focus on urban agriculture.

7. Do you have any last thoughts about the relationship between food security and millennials?
I spoke alot about how my job tries to help people access food through programs and services, but I like to use food to connect people to eachother and their communities. I use food as a way to build relationships. It’s important to have a sense of belonging to a community. I feel like this is something that everyone wants whether you’re a millennial, elder or newcomer to the neighborhood. Everyone wants to belong. Building these connections through food is important and relevant for everyone.

8. What are the main thoughts/concerns on your mind right now?
Alot of millennials, myself included, are worried about the future. Young people on a global scale are really worried about the whole world. There’s alot of really terrible stuff going on in our world right now (i.e. everything happening in America with their policies). I am concerned about all the different oppression that is happening in the world at a systemic level. To distill it down to something even simpler: racism, sexism, and colonialism really weigh down on my mind and on the minds of alot of other millennials too. These things affect all of us everyday. Every moment of our lives is shaped by all that’s happening.

Racism exists, sexism exists, class-ism exists, queer antagonism and phobias exist in the current societal structures that we live in right now. All these different things – I can go on and on. These all exist right now as systems that we have to live with and that shapes our lives every day. I was lucky enough to learn about all of this stuff through university in my degree, and I had the privilege of encountering and learning about these things through my life experiences which have shaped the perspectives I have now. It’s not easy to think about the world in this way, but those are the things in my mind. The reason why my mind is on all these oppressions in the world is because this is the world I have to live in, and this is the world that we all have to live with for the rest of our lives unless we change it and work to make it better.

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