Food Insecurity in Canada Reamins
A Pressing Societal & Financial Cocnern
Despite being a country of considerable wealth and abundant farmland, over four million Canadians struggle to afford food. That means one in eight households, and one in six Canadian children are affected by food insecurity.
The impact of food insecurity on anyone in Canada matters to everyone in Canada, be it morally as societal issue, or practically, as a financial problem: according to a 2016 report from Dietitians of Canada, poverty costs the healthcare system is an additional $7.6B per year, on account of diet-related illnesses such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease, dental problems, depression, and anxiety.
In 2016, to address national matters of food security, and to work with provincial partners in addressing regional food security issues, Maple Leaf Foods started the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security.
It’s a registered charity working to advance food security in Canada through funding innovative initiatives, promoting knowledge sharing, and collaborating and advocating for change.
To date, the centre has contributed 4 Million dollars towards food security work in the country, and will contribute over $10 million to the centre’s efforts within the next decade, in addition to a $2.5 million endowment from CEO Michael McCain.
Some of this funding has gone towards supporting Food First’s Everybody Eats program – a 3-year-long project that continues to convene key players across all sectors in our province, to enable clear communication between food producers and policy makers, and to catalyze action points towards enhancing food security, building a more sustainable, self-sufficient food system in NL.
National Symposium on Food Security Launched
to Address The Issue
The Centre held its first Food Security Symposium in late March; it brought together over 160 participants from organizations focused on food security, including Food First NL’s Executive Director Kristie Jameson and Everybody Eats Project Manager Ethan Doney.
The Symposium included speakers on topics ranging from poverty and the right to food as a legal principle, to strategies and challenges in advancing food security. A panel of CEOs including Sarah Davis, of the Loblaw Group of Companies, Barry Telford, of Sodexo Canada, and Michael McCain from Maple Leaf discussed the role of business in ameliorating food security issues.
“We need more inclusive efforts that bring civil society, business, academics and government together, to deliver critical social policies that reduce poverty, advance a more sustainable food system, and optimize our resources so that all Canadians can access healthy food,” McCain said.
The afternoon focused on social policy that supports or impedes the advancement of food security.
Speakers included Tom Rosser, Associate Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada who is leading the development of a national food policy for Canada and Karen Glass, Associate Deputy Minister for the Ontario Poverty Reduction Office, who is leading the development of a poverty reduction strategy.
Food First's Kristie Jameson
Sat on One of the Symposium's Panels
Food First’s Kristie Jameson was on a panel with Diana Bronson from Food Secure Canada, and Melana Roberts from the Toronto Youth Food Policy Council. Jameson’s panel generated a comprehensive rundown on the breadth of policy options that can advance issues of food security.
She used part of her time to provide context for food security issues specific to Newfoundland & Labrador. The symposium took place in the Globe & Mail office in Toronto, where windows were overlooking an urban environment much different than our province’s.
While the issue of food security in Canada is largely linked to poverty, in Newfoundland & Labrador, issues of poverty – like the fact 1 in 20 of us regularly use a food bank – are exasperated by the unique geographical challenges of food security our province faces.
“It was important to me we were not only thinking about urban geographies, or food security as a strictly financial challenge. I wanted to give a clearer perspective on the complexity of food security issues in Newfoundland & Labrador," Jameson said.
"Our province has hundreds of small communities spread out over a vast expanse of land. Poverty issues aside, 84% of these communities do not have a proper grocery store, and rely on limited offerings from corner stores. Many of these communities are not connected roads, and rely on deliveries of food by plane or boats that are frequently delayed. When there’s no food in their one or two local stores, there’s no food in their community.
"This highlights our need to produce more of our own food. Only 10% of the vegetables we eat are grown here. We rely on imports for 90% of our produce.”
Positive Policy Changes Pushing Food Security Forward
Jameson’s second talking point was on our unique, traditional food culture.
As a population that has always had access to wild food from land and sea, we have a rich history of traditional food skills and knowledge pertaining to hunting, fishing, foraging, gardening, and preserving foods that we can draw upon to rebuild the more food secure province we once had, just 2-3 generations ago.
“I highlighted some of the positive policy changes we’ve seen in recent years, in terms of access to wild foods, or the provincial government’s commitment to double our food production by 2022,” Jameson said.
“The province has released significant crown land for agricultural purposes, to address the 89% decline we’ve seen in the number of farms in our province, and to facilitate the sharing of traditional food skills, we’ve reduced the legal age of hunting small and large game to 12 and 16 respectively,” she says.
“Recent policy changes have also made it easier for local fishers to sell to local retailers and restaurants.”
Overall, attending the symposium was a very positive experience for Jameson.
“This was the first time I have seen so many stakeholders from the private sector all under the same roof for a discussion on food security. Approximately 40% of participants in the symposium were leaders from the private sector.
"It’s really encouraging to see that level of interest. It was easy to leave the symposium feeling hopeful about the momentum being generated at events like these, and by our partnerships with organizations like the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security.”