In 2017-2018, approximately 1 in 8 households in Canada were considered food insecure. This is 4.4 million people, including more than 1.2 million children.
In Hastings County, over 1 in 6 households face food insecurity - over 25% more than the national average.
About Food Insecurity
Household food insecurity refers to a lack of access to enough adequate and appropriate food to live an active and healthy life. It is a serious problem in Canada that negatively impacts physical, mental, and social health, and costs our healthcare system immensely (PROOF, 2021).
There are varying states of food insecurity: from worrying if you can pay this week's grocery bill to being forced to miss meals. Food insecurity can look different for many. It may not always lead to hunger, but it can.
While "hunger" and "food insecurity" are closely related, they are different and distinct concepts. Hunger refers to the physical sensation of going without food. It is temporary feeling that goes away after eating. Food insecurity refers to the economic and social issues of food access - usually due to a lack of household financial resources. This tends to be a longer term issue that does not go away until one's situation is resolved.
While extreme and chronic hunger can be seen publicly in our homeless populations, there are many more who struggle with varying levels of food insecurity behind closed doors. As a social issue, food insecurity does not exist in isolation. If families and individuals are facing an inability to buy food, they are surely experiencing a number of other issues linked to a lack of income.
Food insecurity may be experienced long term, or it may be temporary. It can be influenced by a number of factors including income, employment, race/ethnicity, or disability. While the risk for food insecurity is heavy linked to the amount of money available to buy food, neighbourhood conditions (proximity to healthy food) and access to transportation or social supports may also act as factors.
An Income Issue, Not a Food Issue
When looking for solutions, choosing to focus on food insecurity, rather than hunger, moves the discussion beyond short-term food-based solutions, and closer to examining the root causes of this issue: a lack of income. This may be due to a lack of decently paid work, a lack of livable social assistant incomes, a lack of affordable housing, sky rocketing inflation and living costs, etc. A family is food insecure when they cannot afford to acquire food for themselves. No amount of food charity is going to change that. Food insecurity is an indicator of poverty. And poverty is the result of, and a catalyst for, many severe and interconnected issues that continue year after year, and generation after generation: hunger, addiction, housing insecurity, mental illness, unemployment, social isolation, and various forms of abuse. None of these issues exist in isolation.
Research has shown that...
Finding Solutions and Reconsidering Past Approaches
In 2003, Statistics Canada began assessing rates of food insecurity on the annual Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS). For nearly 20 yeras (since this assessment started), rates of food insecurity have steadily risen. Clearly, our current approaches to these issues are not working.
While food charity may address temporary hunger, it can not solve household food insecurity. In fact, some argue that framing food as charity has allowed the Canadian government to turn a blind eye to food insecurity and ignore the human right to food. Food banks and meal programs provide temporary relief to individuals, but do not help to resolve the more deeply rooted issues that bring these people to food programs in the first place: affordable housing, lack of fairly waged employment, and access to appropriate social and health supports.
While supporting food charities is important to stave off day to day hunger in individuals, we must also focus on creating longer-term solutions that acknowledge the realities of food insecurity and address poverty.
We require a three-pronged approach:
1.) Donate: Continue to support food charities and ensure no one gets left behind.
2.) Participate: Participate in programs that already address these issues, and integrate yourself in the broader community. Work together to build food sovereignty (independence) by learning to grow, cook, and preserve food. Share food and skills, help others, and develop a community that can feed itself.
3.) Advocate & Create: Ask for changes required at all political levels: regional, provincial, and federal. Work with politicians to address gaps. Develop community groups that can evaluate and address community-level issues. Work together with your community to build new approaches for the future.