Choi On The Go is a mobile cart working to reconnect Chinese seniors in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside back to their cultural foods by providing low-barrier access to fresh produce.
term project for an introductory entrepreneurship course, turned passion project
Annette Cheung, Godfrey Tang, & Mischa Price
community coordination, experience design, produce sourcing, infield research
As Vancouver’s Chinatown and Downtown Eastside(DTES) continues to gentrify, low-income Chinese seniors in the area are facing increased difficulty accessing healthy and culturally-relevant foods. Reliant on a fixed income, many seniors are forced to make a decision between groceries or other living demands.
Unfortunately, many choose to forfeit groceries. This leaves them reliant on aid agencies - where they often face overt acts of racism - or skipping meals, increasing their risk for diet-related accidents.
Through preliminary research and interviews, we found that many seniors still want to cook their traditional foods at home and that the main barrier for them was an affordable way to access cultural produce.
Unable to change the prices of produce in the neighbourhood and current government aid system, we turned to local food systems to look for opportunities we could leverage. What we found was that while our seniors don’t have enough food, grocery stores and organic farmers often have too much of it. This is where we began – looking how we can close the gap between too much food and not enough.
To better understand the seniors’ needs, I reached out to the local aid agencies, Yarrow Society and the Downtown Eastside Neighbourhood House, and arranged interviews with seniors. Through these interviews, we found out that it was not just the price of produce that was affecting access.
Many of the seniors also have mobility issues and have a hard time leaving their house to even go to a grocery store. As well, language and culture issues make accessing some spaces an uncomfortable or dangerous situation.
Through our research, we found two main groups starting to form within our senior cohort: socially active and isolated.
A senior who leaves their home regularly to meet up with friends and though they get most of their food from aid agencies and food banks, they miss cooking at home.
A senior that rarely leaves home unless necessary, gets most food from bargain grocery stores, and is uncomfortable accessing food banks due to fear of safety.
For practicality, we scoped down to target socially active seniors as isolated seniors continue to be difficult to serve due to their lifestyle. What we hope is that as more hear about the program, word will spread to those that are isolated.
From the research, our team realized that the seniors needed more than just economic access to food – they need a nuanced experience that met their cultural needs. Knowing this, we laid out three goals for our final design:
Developing a Service
Reflecting on the above, we ideated on what a service that meets those goals could look like:
We then chose which ideas we thought were most effective and expanded upon them:
Our team felt that a mobile produce/green bike would be the most feasible way to physically prototype and meet the needs of the seniors. This is also where we went back to the current food waste system, looking to farmers and their leftover produce as providers of the fruits and vegetables we need.
Choi on the Go is a low-cost and low-barrier mobile produce cart that caters to Chinese seniors in the DTES. The service is provided in both Cantonese and English and has a wide selection of recovered fruits and vegetables for seniors to choose on display, providing a tactile and culturally relevant experience.
Set up in either a car or bike, the stand can move freely to locations seniors access frequently, such as local aid agencies or residential buildings/care homes. Being set up on the sidewalks is a familiar entry point as it is reminiscent of the street vending that used to happen in the neighbourhood.
The tactile experience of produce shopping is a significant part of Chinese culture, as the seniors like having the autonomy and the feeling that they chose the best deal. Having a cart that directly caters to the food and language needs of the seniors recognizes and legitimizes their Chinese culture, history, and way of living as an integral part of our society
Farmers at the end of their market week often have a lot of leftover produce that they are forced to compost, by strategically coordinating with them we can use it instead of it going to waste. This allows us to provide healthy and fresh produce to the seniors at an affordable price.
Seniors made it clear that they want connections with youth and giving them that chance to connect is vital to the experience. It is what helps bring the seniors back and helps decrease the loneliness a lot of the seniors feel.
This is one of the first design projects I’ve ever done, and I am lucky that it was it was something so connected to my culture and community. The project showed me that my strength as a designer is being able to provide in-depth research and context. Talking with the seniors and learning their stories, changed my entire relationship to food (in fact I now dedicate some of my garden to growing veggies for the seniors!).
Though we were able to provide this service on multiple occasions, one of my regrets for this project is the fact that we were not able to continue regularly, as it is extremely needed. I am saddened that because I do not speak Cantonese (though it is my ancestral language) it is nearly impossible for me to do this on my own, so I hope in the future I either learn the language or partner up with someone who does.
Additional Photos + Videos
Because this project was so full of laughter, joy, and real people(!), I thought it would be nice to share a collection of photographs and videos from the times we did Choi On the Go.