The holidays are right around the corner and while they may feel and look different due to the challenges of navigating social and family events in the time of COVID, the message of gratitude emphasized by the holidays is more significant than ever.
I feel like it can be easy to forget how much of a privilege it is to have a secure food supply. Many of us grew up with a fridge and pantry full of food, a parent who was able to put dinner on the table most nights of the week, and a brown bag lunch or lunch money to carry us through our schooldays. We never had to worry about where our next meal was coming from, which allowed us to focus on other aspects of our growing lives. Despite growing up in a household that was at times food insecure, even I forget from time to time how lucky I am to have dinner on the table.
However, this is not a reality for many Canadian households. In 2017 -2018, “1 in 8 households were food insecure”, amounting to over 4.4 million Canadians. Food insecurity ranges from marginally food insecure, where households report “some concern or problem of food access” and having to compromise in the quality and/or quantity of food consumed, to severely food insecure in which there are serious food access problems as well as reduced food consumption due to lack of money or resources (McIntyre & Tarasuk, 2020).
Low-income families and those in need of income support are most at risk for food insecurity, as well as those facing strong social/economic disadvantages such as Indigenous and Black households. A key point to remember is that food insecurity is “unrelated to knowing about healthy eating, food budgeting, or the local food environment” (McIntyre & Tarasuk, 2020). More often than not, it is an income issue, a social disparity issue, and a safe housing issue. Many university students, especially international students living alone or in residence, are also familiar with not having adequate food access.
Why should we address food insecurity both on our campus and in our communities? First off, food insecurity is incredibly detrimental to our health and has been linked to the development of several chronic health conditions – such as depression and diabetes – later in life in children who go hungry. Adults exposed to food insecurity are also “more likely than food-secure adults to have chronic physical and mental health problems” as well as higher mortality rates (McIntyre & Tarasuk, 2020) We also need adequate nutrition to support everything we do in our day to day lives. It allows us to focus during lectures and exams, put energy towards passions and hobbies that light us up, and be a good family member, friend, and member of the community. So much of the quality of our lives depends on what is on our plate.
So, what can we as students do to combat food insecurity in our communities? With COVID-19 affecting and forcing us to change almost every aspect of our lives this year, the ways in which we give back and create lasting community change must also adapt. Here are some suggestions that are unique to our current global situation on what you can do to help.
Are you close to anyone who may be experiencing a lack of access to food? Check in on family members, friends, and colleagues who may be food insecure through a phone-call, email, or text message and offer a helping hand. This is especially crucial right now as older relatives may not know how to access online grocery shopping and delivery. Offer to pick up groceries, help them in ordering online, or drop off a week’s worth of soup or chili to a friend in need. Small actions like this can go a long way.
Educate yourself. What communities and demographics in your city or town are most affected by food insecurity? Low-income families, Indigenous families (especially those living in Northern Canada) marginalized groups, individuals with chronic illnesses or disability, and seniors who live alone are disproportionately impacted by food insecurity compared to the rest of the Canadian population. Are there any non-profits or centers in your community dedicated to providing aid to these sectors? If so, they might have a meal or food delivery program for those in need. Consider sending in a donation or volunteer with grocery shopping, meal preparation, and deliveries if and when you can.
As Winnipeg and Manitoba continue to face increasing restrictions in the fight against COVID-19, many small non-profits, foodbanks, soup kitchens, and other meal programs are being forced to shut down and are struggling financially. Consider donating and sharing about these programs and centers on social media to rally support. As a community, we must pull together and combine our efforts to help these initiatives that have helped so many before.
Become politically active. Write to your MLA about your concerns regarding food insecurity in your community and outline the areas in which you think improvements could be made or initiatives started. Do not hesitate to mention foodbanks or meal programs that could benefit from government funding. Come election-time, educate yourself on which parties prioritize improved food-access for all Canadians and support grass-roots organizations that are working to alleviate food insecurity.
There is so much we can do right now to help our communities while still staying safe. However, alleviating food insecurity on a larger, country-wide scale will require a shift in how our municipal, provincial, and federal governments prioritize and allocate resources. A greater emphasis needs to be placed on equalizing resource access across all demographics. As food insecurity is rooted in poverty, any policy change hoping to address food access also needs to address the fact that some 3.2 million Canadians currently live under the poverty line (Press, 2020) and under the current world circumstances, this number will only increase. If you are interested in further reading on this topic, check out PROOF – the website for an interdisciplinary team of researchers investigating the link between government policy and food insecurity. Food Secure Canada is another fantastic pan-Canadian organization connected to hundreds of grass-roots initiatives with the common goal of food sovereignty and putting an end to hunger.
Do you have any suggestions or initiatives you would like to share? Send us an email or comment below. If this topic has really piqued your interest, our December newsletter will be touching more on both this topic and on food waste around the holidays. You can access our newsletter by following the “get in touch with us” link on this blog, or by following the link on our Instagram page.
McIntyre, L. & Tarasuk, V. (June 12, 2020). Food Insecurity in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 23, 2020 from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/food-insecurity-in-canada.
Press, J. (February 24, 2020) 3.2M Canadians, including over 560,000 children, livin in poverty: Stats Canada. Global News. Retrieved November 23, 2020 from https://globalnews.ca/news/6590433/statistics-canada-poverty-report-2020/.
Food Secure Canada - https://foodsecurecanada.org/who-we-are/what-food-sovereignty