Although the finer nuances of food insecurity have changed, its grip is as tenacious now as it was centuries ago. And much of that tenacity is due to an age-old adversary—poverty. It’s a looming presence for far too many.
Very few can deny the increased cost of living. According to Canada’s Food Price Report for 2023, an expected 5-7% rise in food prices in 2022, turned out to be a 10.3% rise. That’s substantial. It’s the general public who are being forced to contend with these changes.
Even in 2022, people were forced to pick and choose food purchases that were less costly. Other items were simply left off the list. Along with food, other necessary costs such as rent or mortgage, phone, internet and fuel also demand our attention. Simply put, there’s just not enough money to go around.
Yet, food is the one place where we can pinch a little harder. However, as the last resort, some have had to overlook their pride and, cap in hand, ask a food bank for assistance. Everyone needs to know there’s never been any shame in having to do so.
Food Banks Help Fight Food Insecurity
One of the major methods to address the immediate impact of food insecurity is through the use of food banks. In Newfoundland & Labrador, these can be found in larger centres such as St. John’s as well as smaller ones, including the Placentia Area Food Bank — Serving Branch to Ship Harbour.
Unfortunately, an increasing number of people are having to rely on the food banks. Often at the final minute, when there is no other hope, many are forced to request an emergency hamper. Some have found the need to rely on a food bank on a regular basis.
Again, there’s no shame in having to do so. In fact, many of the people calling for help are not unemployed. They may have families to support. Whether for those who are single, couples or a family, it’s simply a matter of their income not going far enough.
The Real Issue
However, as many know, food banks are merely the symptom of the true problem. The real issue is down to money. This lies at the heart of many of the dilemmas plaguing us, food insecurity being one of them.
Source: Nicola Barts .
When looking at the data, we find that in Canada as a whole, 63% of those regarded as food insecure receive social assistance. The story is likely the same in Newfoundland & Labrador. That means the majority of people finding it difficult to put food on the table are on social assistance. None of this is surprising.
Most on social assistance are there simply because what they earn in their jobs is inadequate to actually make a living. No doubt, in an effort to address the cost of living, the province increased the minimum wage on 1 April 2023 to $14.50. Then, on 1 October, 2023, it will rise to $15. While an increase to the minimum wage is welcomed, it still falls short of the $18.85 an hour which is considered the living wage.
Reaching this living wage is an immense obstacle for too many in Newfoundland & Labrador. Concerns regarding problems tied to poverty and the grip it has on much of the population need to be addressed.
Something called the “poverty line” is a useful barometer for overall well being. Let’s take a basket filled with the goods and services needed to live a fruitful life—healthy food, appropriate shelter, clothing, transportation and so on. The cost of these items are linked to the average cost in the community where we live. This establishes the poverty line, one we are either above or below.
Although, poverty has a level of complexity. The problem is there’s something known as “hidden poverty.” This means you may actually be above that poverty line. However, one is thrust back given the additional costs for electric, child care, food and other basic necessities. So, poverty is the primary reason why people are held within the grips of food insecurity.
Along these same lines, in order to genuinely address the complexities comprising food insecurity, it’s necessary to also take into account the myriad costs, beyond our basic necessities, we encounter in life.
An Integrated Approach
Alongside food, we’re required to deal with a multiplicity of other costs such as health, housing, and so on. The lack of nutritious food is only one component of a much broader problem and this demands a more integrated approach.
And integration means it’s necessary to have people who can work to coordinate the various elements coming together to shape the vulnerabilities people experience.
So, when tackling food insecurity, at the same time, efforts must be made to ensure people are living in ideal housing. At the same time, it’s imperative their health is also being addressed.
These factors are all intimately connected. For instance, our food is closely linked with our health. Moreover, the quality of our housing is also equally bound to our health. When addressing food insecurity, it needs to be alongside other issues such as housing and health.
We’ve been down this road many times before. If we think of food as one arm, our finances may be the other. Health and housing are our two legs. We need to dedicate our attention to the well-being of the body, not just one of the arms or legs. Each are inherently connected to the other.
We need to dramatically change our perspective. If our intention is to improve people’s well-being, any money given must be used to address the whole.