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Food diversity and aging well in a multicultural city: Japanese Canadian (Nikkei) seniors and Community Congregate Dining

Food is being served in bento boxes at a Japanese congregate dining room in Toronto

The need for culturally appropriate care provision is becoming vital in supporting seniors aging well at home and in the community. Among resources that can promote healthy aging, congregate dining that serves nutritious meals for seniors to eat together in a social setting has been proven as an excellent strategy to prevent malnutrition and promote psychosocial well-being. However, existing research in North America focuses predominantly on congregate dining for older adults from dominant ethnocultural backgrounds. Little is known about the experience of racialized and ethnocultural minority seniors who participate in congregate dining services.

Momiji Health Care Society (MHCS) is a non-profit organization in Scarborough, Ontario, that serves seniors primarily of Japanese descent (Nikkei) through supportive housing and various community programs. MHCS's Community Congregate Dining (CCD) is a popular program that provides nutritionally balanced, affordable, and homey Japanese meals to community-dwelling Nikkei seniors.

This community-based collaborative project will bridge academic and community worlds through a rich and honest documentation of the MHCS's CCD program. Food has a symbolic meaning for generational Japanese Canadians who, due to the tragic history of wartime internment and the post-war geographical dispersals, experience multigenerational trauma and language loss. Food also plays a crucial role for Japanese newcomers to Canada who crave to maintain their emotional ties to "home" and preserve their culinary identities across generations.

Drawing on a narrative approach and the philosophy of community-based participatory research, we will: 1) explore the mechanisms associated with the CCD program's success and resilience; 2) mobilize practice-based knowledge and lessons learned from the CCD to the Nikkei and other aging diaspora; and 3) develop a culturally appropriate food sharing model for ethnocultural minority seniors who experience geographical dispersion and isolation. The findings of this project will contribute to a knowledge base about racialized and ethnocultural minority seniors' experience of congregate meal programs to build strategies to increase equity, inclusion, and cultural appropriateness of these programs. Given that everyday food practices and foodways of diasporic communities have constituted a site of identity formation, political contestation, and community building, this research also contributes to a growing body of knowledge on ethnocultural seniors' food practices and the role culturally appropriate food plays in healthy aging.


Yukari Seko (PI), Toronto Metropolitan University
James Tiessen, Toronto Metropolitan University
Veen Wong (Research Coordinator)
Rayna Adachi-Amitay (Research Assistant)



SSHRC Partnership Engage Grant $24,866

Project dates

March 2023 - February 2025