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On World Food Day More than Half a Million British Columbians are Struggling to Afford Healthy Food

 

Monday, October 16th will mark the 72nd World Food Day. World Food Day has Canadian origins as it was established at a 1945 assembly in Quebec to mark the founding of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Each year it is celebrated to mark this occasion and “to promote worldwide awareness and action for those who suffer from hunger and for the need to ensure food security and nutritious diets for all.” [1] Langley, BC, hosts the largest World Food Day celebration in Canada.

The average monthly cost of a nutritious food basket, a marker of a healthy diet, was $974 for a family of 4 in BC in 2015 (read the full 2015 report). In BC’s northern region, it was $1032.

“When we hear these statistics, we may think that the price of food is the issue,” said Tania Morrison, Provincial Manager, Food Security, BC Centre for Disease Control. “However, although prices may be increasing, food in Canada is relatively cheap compared to other parts of the world, and food expenditure comprises only a small proportion of total spending of average Canadians households – about 10% in 2015. For families of low income, being able to afford a healthy diet is challenging or impossible and can require a significant proportion of household budgets.”

As the Gateway explored in its earlier poverty reduction story series, the root cause of food insecurity isn’t the price of food – it’s poverty. As such, the solution to food insecurity cannot lie in charity and community food initiatives but in poverty reduction measures that ensure everyone has adequate incomes to buy food and meet other basic needs. Community and charitable food initiatives hold an important role in the conversation, and in pushing for systemic change towards poverty reduction.

An indicator of food insecurity in BC is a household’s ability to afford healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate food. Calculating the cost of the National Nutritious Food Basket provides insight into the income required to be able to eat a nutritionally adequate diet. The Provincial Health Services Authority collects, analyzes and releases this data every two years in collaboration with the regional health authorities and Ministry of Health. Data from 2017 will be released in early 2018.

Over the past six years, the cost of a nutritious food basket across the province has been rising but incomes have not kept up. Some other key facts about food insecurity in BC include:

 

  • The majority of food insecure British Columbians are employed but not earning enough; 65% of food insecure households are working. [2]

 

  • Northern BC is disproportionately affected with one in six families food insecure compared to one in ten families provincially; the cost of travel to access food is also an additional northern food cost. [3]

 

  • Food insecurity takes a major toll on our health, and our provincial health care system. Adults who are food insecure are more vulnerable to chronic conditions such as hypertension, heart disease and diabetes, have greater difficulty managing their diseases, and face an increased likelihood of obesity, depression, distress, and social isolation. [4] Annual health care costs for severely food insecure adults were 121% more than those with stable access to healthy food in an Ontario study in 2015. [5]

 

The idea of a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) program is gaining traction as a tangible solution to poverty inequity in BC and other areas in Canada. A BIG ensures that everyone has unconditional access to an adequate income to meets basic needs and enables a dignified human experience regardless of work status. [6]

Ontario piloted its own BIG program earlier in 2017 setting a precedent for other provinces to do the same. Following suit, the newly elected BC NDP government has committed to also testing a basic income pilot. We are excited to see what lies ahead.

As this year’s World Food Day approaches, we must remember that BC has a role to play in setting a global example for what it looks like to bridge from community food security into poverty reduction, to create a future where all families can afford to consume a healthy diet.

 

For more information:

World Food Day

PROOF Food Insecurity and Policy Research at University of Toronto

Provincial Health Services Authority Food Security

 

[1] http://www.fao.org/world-food-day/2017/about/en/

[2] Provincial Health Services Authority. (2016). Priority health equity indicators for British Columbia: Selected indicators report. Vancouver: Provincial Health Services Authority, Population and Public Health Program.

[3] Ibid. [4] Ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Dietitians of Canada. (2016).  Addressing household food insecurity in Canada: Position statement and recommendations from Dietitians of Canada. Toronto, ON.  [7]  2017 Confidence and Supply Agreement between the BC Green Caucus and the BC New Democrat Caucus.