Participatory Food Costing

Voices for Food Security in Nova Scotia logoVoices for Food Security in Nova Scotia

2005 – 2017

Participatory Food Costing Project (PFCP)


The overall purpose of the NS Participatory Food Costing Project was to involve people who have experience of food insecurity, and those with the ability to impact the issue, in the process of collecting, analyzing and sharing knowledge about the affordability of a healthy diet in Nova Scotia.

We worked with our community, university, and government partners, we aimed to raise awareness about the personal, financial and public health burden of food insecurity and advocate for policy changes, such as raising the minimum wage, increasing income assistance rates, and creating special diets allowances, so that everyone in Nova Scotia can afford to eat a nutritious, personally and culturally acceptable diet.

Background Information

Photo - 3 women in a grocery storeEvery day thousands of Canadians struggle to have enough nutritious and safe food to feed themselves and their families. Many Nova Scotians do not have adequate income to meet their basic needs and lack the resources to afford a basic nutritious diet. Our goal is for all Nova Scotians to be food secure.

We began by asking a simple question: “How much does it cost for households living in Nova Scotia to eat a nutritious diet?” The process used to determine this is called “Participatory Food Costing.”

Until 2002, food costing had not been completed in Nova Scotia since 1988, so there was an urgent need to determine the current cost of a basic nutritious diet for various communities and for various family types. We undertook our first participatory food costing study in 2002.

“Our experience in Nova Scotia helped us develop a better understanding of food insecurity as well as what steps can be taken to change policies and create long term solutions”

– Dr. Patty Williams

Following this, food costing studies were conducted in Nova Scotia in 2004/05, 2007/08, 2010, 2012 and 2015 with the support of the Nova Scotia Department of Health and Wellness.

Data Collection and Analysis

Photo- Food costing at the Grocery storeIn each Food Costing cycle, grocery stores across NS are contacted to confirm their participation.

Food Costers are recruited to participate in training sessions (held in their local communities) to learn how to use the Food Costing Survey Tool and do a “practise run” in a local grocery store.

In June, Food Costers go to grocery stores to cost items on Health Canada’s National Nutritious Food Basket, as well as the relative cost and availability of locally produced foods.

The completed Food Costing Survey Tools are then set back to FoodARC, where Food Costing project staff (and often MSVU dietetic students) analyze the information, and with the help of a statistician determine the cost of a basic nutritious diet in NS for various family compositions.


The project partners have been able to influence policy change at many levels. For example food security is named as one of four priority action area in our provincial healthy eating strategy, and our work influenced the development the Nova Scotia government’s Thrive! strategy.

We have built a strong network of partners spanning communities, universities and all levels of government who are committed to addressing the issue of food insecurity in Nova Scotia and who have contributed to work happening across the country.

We have been able to provide students with a rich training environment for community-based participatory research.

Our work has been published in national and international journals, and has been presented at local, regional, national and international forums, including in front of Olivier de Shutter, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food during his official visit to Canada in May 2012.

“I think that the food costing project has allowed the opportunity for moms, but also for us [as a family resource centre] to have another way to advocate for changes to policies around food and bring a lot of awareness about the circumstances — that people are actually trying to survive on a really small amount of money.”

– Family Resource Centre Partner

Ways of Working Together

FC policy-gatheringAcross Canada, Nova Scotia is the only province to use a Participatory Food Costing model. Participatory Food Costing means that people experiencing food insecurity and those with the ability to impact the issue (i.e., staff at family resource centres, women’s centres and other community-based organizations, as well as other stakeholders) play important roles in the research. This includes involvement with decision-making, data collection and analysis, communication and dissemination of research results, which are then used by project partners and others to influence policies to strengthen food security in communities across Nova Scotia.

“So what has my involvement meant for me? This gives me the ability to do something for myself, my family, and my province. … just by doing that it’s built up my self esteem.”

-Food Costing Participant

Graphic - Logo for the Participatory Food Costing Project As an example of how we work together, our logo was developed in collaboration with our partners to reflect the values and principles of participatory approaches to addressing issues surrounding food security. These values include social justice, sustainable practices, respect, inclusion, collaboration, capacity building, and policy and systems change.