School is mentioned 77 times in the document. The report states: “Children and youth are over-represented among food-insecure individuals in Canada. Despite the efforts already being made to provide better access food to families, some children continue to suffer from food insecurity and malnourishment. Although there are several good school-feeding programs operating in Canada, it is the only G8 country without a national school-feeding program. A national school nutrition program would help to improve nutritional outcomes for food-insecure children.” Click here or the pdf file to read the full report or excerpts below.
Children in low-income households are vulnerable to food insecurity. The relationship between low-income households and food-insecure children reveals farreaching negative impacts on their education and health. Nutrition of pregnant mothers and young children is critical to healthy growth.23 Research has demonstrated that “nutritionally deprived children experience more health problems including anemia, weight loss, colds, and infections, and have more school absences and learning problems than food-secure children.”24 Dietdeprived children are less able to concentrate and perform well at school, thus threatening their opportunity to gain an education and vital skills for life.25 Children from low-income households “consistently fall behind their peers in test scores, graduation rates, college enrolment, and other measures of academic success.”26
- Provincial and territorial efforts to address food security typically involve more than one government department and are multipronged, ranging from funding support for school-based feeding programs for children and youth, to support for community-based approaches that provide emergency relief and collective gardens and kitchens with an educational component.
- Comprehensive community efforts simultaneously provide emergency food supplies to people in need, education on healthy eating, community-building environments, and spaces for growing and harvesting healthy foods. They also advocate for policy changes to reduce poverty.
- Success in reducing poverty in Canada would lead to increased food security in affected households by increasing the amount of disposable household income and/or decreasing the costs of non-food essentials.
Nova Scotia has one of the highest rates of food insecurity in Canada. To combat it, the Department of Health Promotion and Protection has developed long-term strategic initiatives, including several schoolrelated policies to promote healthy eating and local foods.11 The Government of Nova Scotia has further committed to building food security through financial support to the Nova Scotia Participatory Food Security Projects, now the Nova Scotia Food Security Network, and by implementing Healthy Eating Nova Scotia.12
Ontario’s Northern School Fruit and Vegetable School Program, initiated in 2006–07, promotes awareness to increase consumption of fruit and vegetables by elementary school-aged children in parts of Northern Ontario. The program—a partnership of the Ontario Fruit and Vegetable Growers’ Association, the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), the Porcupine Health Unit, schools and local school boards, and the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion—provides fruit and vegetable snacks for 12,000 students in 61 schools.13
The Government of Saskatchewan is committed to helping residents achieve food security, driving its efforts primarily through programs to assist households with low income and provide low-income housing. In addition, Saskatchewan’s Child Nutrition and Development Program (CNDP) provides funding to “promote good nutrition practices for children, help develop independent living skills and provide opportunities for communities to take ownership of local food security initiatives.”18 In 2010–11, $2.3 million of CNDP funding went to community-based organizations and school divisions.19 Saskatchewan’s Ministry of Health also addresses food insecurity through its Population Health Promotion Strategy (2004), whose long-term food security objectives are to:20
- increase opportunities for people to enjoy more nutritious food in homes and community settings;
- reduce the economic, geographic, social, and cultural barriers that limit healthy eating habits;
- advocate for food policies that promote and protect the health of Saskatchewan residents.
Free Access Programs
Programs that provide free access to food include food banks, school feeding programs, and food rescue programs. They are delivered with the assistance of community members, as well as public and private funding.
Food banks are a major source of assistance for foodinsecure Canadians. Food bank programs distribute free food, typically through food pantries, soup kitchens, and other community agencies. Canadian food bank usage is at a record level, suggesting a higher need for assistance with obtaining food, or greater awareness of food banks as a resource. Food Banks Canada’s annual usage survey showed that 882,188 individuals, or 2.5 per cent of the Canadian population, were assisted by food banks across Canada during one month in 2012.25
Food banks rely on food producers, processors, retailers, and individuals to donate supplies.26 Demand typically exceeds supply.27 And their already limited supplies are declining: 55 per cent of Canadian food banks had to reduce the amount of food provided to each household last year, and 14 per cent actually ran out of food.28 In addition, their supplies are often of a limited variety and not fresh,29 since non-perishable and heavily processed foods keep for longer periods on the shelf. It is more difficult for food banks and users to access fresh and nutritious food items such as milk, chicken, fruit, and vegetables for a healthy, balanced diet. Although food banks answer demands for immediate food insecurity relief, their resources are often not sufficient to meet the requirements for a nutritious diet. In a study of one of the largest food banks in Ontario, the amount and nutritional content of food hampers provided was compared with Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs)30 and Eating Well With Canada’s Food Guide. 31 The results showed that only grain products among the food groups met the recommended number of daily servings.32 Further, “the micronutrient content of the food hampers, per person per day, varied widely and sufficient DRIs were available for only 36 per cent of the micronutrients analyzed.”33
While food banks are important community resources that provide immediate and emergency relief for foodinsecure households, they are not structured to remedy long-term food insecurity or to provide for all of an individual’s or family’s food needs. Instead, they are localized, short-term stop-gap solutions to food insecurity. The food bank model does not contribute substantially to sustainable change or to improving income levels, or to other means of helping users become foodsecure on their own.
School Food Programs
School meal programs provide students with free food (or in some cases, subsidized food) within elementary, middle, and high schools, as well as in churches and other community centres. The food is provided through government subsidies and by local organizations and individuals and is organized within the schools (or other settings) by volunteers and teachers. While some programs offer free food to students, others provide nutritious meals to students for a subsidized fee. In some cases, the fees are determined on a sliding scale, in accordance with the family income. Parents or guardians then pay fees according to their ability. However, all students receive the same meals, regardless of how much was paid.
Organizations that implement school meal programs at a national level include the Breakfast Clubs of Canada, Farm to School, and Breakfast for Learning. In 2010– 11, the Breakfast Clubs served over 107,000 children in 1,034 different schools across Canada.34 Farm to School is a national school-based program that connects schools (K–12) and local farms to ensure children have access to fresh, local, nutritious, safe, and culturally appropriate foods while at school. Part of the broader Farm to Cafeteria movement, Farm to School’s many initiatives currently serve over 20,000 students in British Columbia alone.35 Breakfast for Learning provides grants to other organizations and programs to facilitate feeding programs in schools at a community level.36 In 2011–12, Breakfast for Learning “funded 4,431 breakfast, lunch and snack programs operating within over 2,400 school/community sites, supporting more than 430,000 children and youth with the provision of over 67 million nourishing meals and snacks.”37
Provinces and cities also fund programs for school meal programs:
- The City of Toronto offers a number of grants each year to assist organizations and schools with establishing feeding program in schools.38
- Newfoundland and Labrador supports the Kids Eat Smart Foundation. This charitable organization provides funding for communities to run their own school nutrition programs. In 2012, 216 school feeding programs gave some 52,000 students access to nutritional programs.39
- The Department of Health of Prince Edward Island provided the Healthy Eating Alliance with $300,000 to develop school nutrition policies and support school breakfast feeding programs between 2007 and 2009.40
- The Ontario Student Nutrition Program provides up to 15 per cent of funding to local program providers for purchasing nutritious food for children and youth. Programs may be for breakfast, lunch, or snacks, but must meet qualifying criteria such as universal accessibility for children.41
School food programs are found most often in disadvantaged areas with a higher-than-average proportion of food-insecure households. They provide children and youth with access to nutritious food, in order to improve or maintain their health as well as increase their ability to learn and do well in school. However, they are vulnerable to shortages, as they rely heavily on contributions from the community and government. Also, the food offered does not always provide the best nutritional value.42 Moreover, such programs are rarely assessed for effectiveness in reducing food insecurity among recipients.43 Some studies have linked school meal programs to negative consequences, including “perpetuating inequities, stigmatizing participants, disempowering and excluding families [from meal choice decisions], and creating dependent clients.”44 Given the
Second Harvest: A Model for Managing Excess Food
Second Harvest is the largest organization in Canada to redistribute food to people in need. It works with Toronto-based grocery retailers, food manufacturers, food distributors, the Ontario Food Terminal, the St. Lawrence Market, event planners, hotels, and restaurants by picking up donated and excess food that would have otherwise been thrown out. The food that is rescued is primarily perishable: fruit, vegetables, meat, cheese, juice, milk, and more. Everything delivered is edible food that has been donated because it is close to expiry and likely will not sell; is part of overstock; has been mislabelled, discontinued, or discounted; or has damaged packaging.
Second Harvest then delivers the rescued food to 215 social service agencies across Toronto, including food banks, meal programs, children’s breakfast programs, community centres, drop-in centres, summer camps, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, and centres for addiction and mental health treatment. Second Harvest represents a model of managing and using food otherwise destined to be wasted. The programs developed by this organization shift food distribution mechanisms to meet the needs of food-insecure households. Through its programs, Second Harvest has been able to:1 provide more than 18,000 meals to people in need in Toronto;
- help foster community engagement;
- deliver 6.8 million pounds of food to people living in vulnerable neighbourhoods;
- collaborate with Maple Leaf, which donated 680 turkeys in 2011 for the annual turkey drive.
Some of the rescued food is distributed through agencies that provide short-term, emergency food supplies, such as food banks. Other Second Harvest programs address multiple food insecurity factors such as low income, geographic isolation, and lack of transportation. For example, Second Harvest’s SHOP (Second Harvest Outreach Program) initiative is a partnership involving community groups such as food banks and health centres that distribute excess fresh fruit and vegetables in a farmers’ market-style environment. Registered food recipients are invited to shop for quantities of produce based on the size of their families. Those in need can register through their local community agency or food bank. All the produce is free to recipients and is donated by the Ontario Food Terminal, along with other food donors, and delivered by Second Harvest.
Reliance on donations is Second Harvest’s biggest challenge to sustainability. The organization does not depend on government support. Calls for food, time, equipment, and services, to maintain and raise awareness of the programs and needs, are ongoing.
general feeling of altruism that surrounds school food programs, it is difficult to measure their overall impacts as compared with their goals.
Food Rescue Programs
Food rescue and food recovery initiatives are programs that redistribute food that would have otherwise gone to waste. Edible food is gathered from, or donated by, producers, wholesalers, grocery stores, restaurants, and hotels and then redistributed for free to people in need. Food rescue programs distribute food through food banks and other localized settings. In Canada, food rescue programs are typically delivered by community members on a volunteer basis. In addition, some organizations collect food on a larger scale for redistribution. For example, Second Harvest is a Toronto-based organization that redistributes food to community agencies in Toronto.45 (See box Second Harvest: A Model for Managing Excess Food.”) Large food rescue organizations like this have a substantial resource base, which allows them to distribute a significant amount of food with efficiency.
Quest is British Columbia’s largest not-for-profit food exchange program. The Quest Food Exchange is a food rescue organization that operates out of a Vancouver warehouse. Donated food is collected on a daily basis from local restaurants, hotels, dairies, bakeries, grocers, and wholesalers and then redistributed to those in need through food banks, community kitchens, over 300 social service providers, and to Quest’s own mini-chain of low-cost grocery stores.46 The grocery stores are not open to the public. Instead, individuals are referred to the outlets by social service agencies.47 While only good-quality food is approved for redistribution, much of the food on hand is close to its expiry date or perishable.
Quest’s efforts to stem food insecurity address risk factors of low income, geographic isolation, and lack of transportation. The organization is challenged by its dependence on volunteers and donations of food, equipment, and services. Moreover, rising food prices in general are increasingly causing restaurants and other food outlets to cut costs and reduce excess food, thereby reducing the amount of food they have available for donation.48
Public Access Programs
Many food assistance programs in Canada provide public access to food. They offer food at a reduced cost, made possible through grants from government or organizations. These programs are delivered with the assistance of community members and government funding. Key examples of these programs include community gardens and kitchens, community greenhouses, Good Food boxes, community shared agriculture, and Meals on Wheels.
Community Gardens and Kitchens
Many types of food assistance programs have been developed through community initiatives. Well-known examples include community kitchens and community gardens. These kinds of programs bring together members of the local community, who pool their resources. In community gardens, individuals, families, and organizations contribute time, skills, labour, and resources such as seeds, fertilizer, or tools to create and manage a common garden. Community kitchens bring together individuals, families, and organizations who donate time, skills, labour, and resources such as utensils or food supplies to collectively prepare meals. (See box “The Urban Aboriginal Intergenerational Community Kitchen Garden” for an example.)
The Urban Aboriginal Intergenerational Community Kitchen Garden
The Urban Aboriginal Intergenerational Community Kitchen Garden is an example of a community kitchen/garden combination developed for and by Aboriginal people. The project offers First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people living in an urban area of low employment levels, high levels of disease, and a legacy of intergenerational residential school effects with the opportunity to grow and prepare their own fresh produce. Transportation to the garden is provided for the Eastern Vancouver participants who plant, tend, and harvest the garden produce. During each visit, participants share a meal in the on-site community kitchen. Crops grown include fruit, vegetables, and herbs—the latter used for cooking, traditional medicine, and ceremonial purposes. In addition to providing access to culturally acceptable food, the project has demonstrated strength in building community and social support, and in educating users about gardening, food processing, preservation, and knowledge of food system issues. The project also creates a safe space for Elders and youth to interact, to promote healing through gardening.
Sources: Vancouver Native Health Society, Garden Project; Public Health Agency of Canada, Urban Aboriginal Community Kitchen Garden Project.
Due to their grassroots nature, it is difficult to establish how many people community gardens and kitchens serve. A recent estimate put the number of community kitchens in Canada at 2,500.49 Community gardens and kitchens address food insecurity factors of low income, geographic isolation, lack of transportation, and low food literacy. Such initiatives allow people to combine their resources with other local community members to provide healthy and nutritious meals. They also facilitate cooperation and social interaction among community members and contribute to a sense of social well-being.50 In addition, community gardens and kitchens provide opportunities to improve food literacy, as children and adults work together to learn about, grow, and prepare their own food.
Community Green Houses
Building community greenhouses to provide local, fresh produce is an innovative solution to food insecurity that is being leveraged in different regions across Canada. For example, the Iqaluit Greenhouse Community Society was developed by area residents and is managed by the society’s members. The greenhouse acts as a local community garden that provides fresh produce in a physical environment that does not accommodate a traditional outdoor garden or growing season. The structure of the greenhouse was built with funding from the Government of Nunavut and the property was donated by the Nunavut Research Institute. The partnership with the Nunavut Research Institute ensures that the greenhouse is available for research purposes as well as a source of food for the community. Membership to the greenhouse society is $25 a month, plus a $65 fee to rent a plot each season. These fees are used to cover the cost of soil, garden supplies, and insurance.51 This model provides a framework for community and government collaboration.
The College of the Rockies in Cranbrook, B.C., operates the Community Greenhouse and has programs for children, families, and seniors.52 Support for the greenhouse comes from the federal government, the Government of British Columbia, Investment Agriculture, and the Columbia Basin Trust. Participants benefit from the opportunity to grow their own produce locally and for an extended growing season. They state that they also learn valuable techniques for growing, harvesting, and preparing fresh produce by participating in the community greenhouse.53 Initiatives such as these address food insecurity factors of low income, geographic isolation, lack of transportation, and low food literacy.
Good Food Boxes
“Good Food Boxes” are the products of communitybased programs where containers of food are made available to households on a regular basis for a subsidized price. These boxes typically include fresh produce from local farmers and producers. They encourage community members to take advantage of locally grown fresh produce and offer food-insecure households with access to nutritious foods for less than they would pay at a retail outlet. Examples of Good Food Box programs in Canada include the following:
- The Community Kitchen Program of Calgary operates a Good Food Box program that buys bulk quantities of fresh produce directly from farmers and distributors. Standard-sized boxes of produce are delivered according to a city-wide and surroundingareas schedule to 160 centralized depot locations such as churches, community centres, senior centres, and apartment complexes. Participants preorder their boxes of produce from their community depot. Once a month, the boxes are delivered by Community Kitchen staff and volunteers to each depot.54 With a goal of addressing the needs of marginalized Calgarians, the program helps participants budget their finances and access cost-effective, healthy, nutritious food.55
- Toronto’s FoodShare operates a Good Food Box program as a non-profit fresh fruit and vegetable distribution system. It operates similarly to a large buying club with centralized buying and coordination. Individuals place orders for boxes with volunteer coordinators in their neighbourhood and receive a box of fresh produce on a weekly, biweekly, or monthly cycle. Customers benefit from the cost savings of bulk buying and the time saved by this distribution method.56
- Saskatoon’s Good Food Box program is the secondlargest in Canada, offering up to 2,000 boxes a month of fresh, nutritious foods at an affordable price. Individual families, as part of neighbourhoodbased groups, each with a volunteer coordinator, pay for and order food boxes ahead of time. Program staff purchase foods in bulk from local producers and wholesalers. Volunteers and staff pack the boxes, which are then delivered to the neighbourhood depots. The boxes also contain recipes and information about food and the food system.57
A 2004 study of the Saskatoon Good Food Box program asked participants about its effectiveness. The results indicated that the value for money was good and that household consumption of healthy, nutritious food (e.g., fresh produce) had increased through the program.58 However, a lack of transportation to pick up the boxes was an issue for some.59 The high dependence on volunteer neighbourhood coordinators was also noted.60
Community Shared Agriculture
Good Food Boxes are a variation on the Community Shared Agriculture (CSA) approach to growing and purchasing food. In the CSA model, producers and consumers work cooperatively: The producer grows food for a predetermined group of consumers who enter into an agreement of purchase with the grower prior to the start of the season. The producer gains a guaranteed market; the consumer gains high-quality, fresh food as it becomes available.61 CSA farms “usually offer weekly delivery or pick-up of vegetables and/or meat. Sometimes CSAs can also include flowers, fruit, herbs and eggs.”62 The producer-consumer relationship is strengthened through the increased involvement of consumers volunteering on the farm.
Meals on Wheels
Meals on Wheels is an international system of food preparation and delivery to people who are faced with mobility constraints or are unable to cook food. Delivering ready-made meals is especially helpful to the elderly, the infirm, or those otherwise unable to prepare a nutritious meal. The program is highly dependent on volunteers, especially for delivery services. In many cases, the service caters to the low-income elderly. Offered throughout Canada, the program is available in urban and rural locations. While most Meals on Wheels programs deliver meals hot and ready-to-eat, some also deliver frozen meals in microwavable containers. The cost of meals provided varies depending on the organization providing the service. Examples of Canadian service providers, and their meal prices, include the following:
- The East York (Toronto) Meals on Wheels: A threecourse dinner meal costs $4.25.63
- Meals on Wheels of Winnipeg: A three-course meal costs $6.00.64
- Meals on Wheels of Calgary: The cost of meals depends on an individual’s income level.65
Meals on Wheels provides healthy food options, largely by including fresh produce. Programs such as this encourage food-insecure households to proactively budget for meals and to develop healthy meal plans.
Food insecurity is often a multi-dimensional issue calling for a comprehensive approach. Many factors interrelate, such as low income or geographic isolation and lack of transportation. It makes sense, then, to address multiple factors through efforts to simultaneously provide an emergency food supply to people in need; education on healthy eating; community-building environments; spaces for growing and harvesting healthy foods; and advocating for policy changes to reduce poverty. Two examples of comprehensive models that address a range of factors are Community Food Centres Canada and FoodShare Toronto.
Community Food Centres Canada
Community Food Centres Canada provides ideas, resources, and a partnership approach to partner organizations across Canada that wish to establish community food centres (CFCs).66 CFCs bring people
The Stop Community Food Centre
The Stop Community Food Centre is a CFC operating in Toronto, Ontario. It develops programs and activities for community members and provides them with food assistance, education on nutrition, and a social environment. Revenue sources for the Centre include foundations, individuals, corporations, special events, donated food, and government funding.1
The projects and services it provides address several factors associated with food insecurity:2
- A drop-in: where members can enjoy nutritious foods.
- A food bank: that provides three-day support of food every month.
- An urban agriculture initiative: that includes an 8,000 square foot garden, a community garden, and a greenhouse.
- A community cooking program: where people prepare nutritious meals together and socialize.
- Bake ovens and markets: where people bake together. The Centre also hosts a year-round farmers’ market.
- An after-school program: that engages children ages 8 to 12 in fun activities, teaching them how to cook and grow food.
- Sustainable food systems education: that teaches school children where their food comes from and provides them with cooking and growing skills through fun activities.
- Community action: that supports community members to speak out against hunger and poverty through activism.
The Centre assesses the impact of its programs annually through qualitative and quantitative analysis. Data collected include information on how many people were served, how much food was distributed, how many volunteers and volunteer hours were involved, etc. In addition, an annual survey of program participants is conducted about program effectiveness and general feedback about the Centre. In 2011, 92 per cent of survey respondents reported that the Centre played an important role in helping them cope with their hunger and food insecurity.3 Further, 51 per cent of participants indicated that coming to the Centre had a positive impact on their health.4
together to grow, cook, share, and advocate for good food. They provide increased access to healthy food for low-income community members. They also help to increase food literacy by helping community members develop healthy food behaviours and skills through hands-on gardening and cooking.67 Community Food Centres Canada is building a network of community food centres across Canada: Two new community food centres were established in Stratford and Perth, Ontario, in 2012.68 The Stop Community Food Centre is one example of a successful CFC that addresses a range of factors that contribute to food insecurity. (See box “The Stop Community Food Centre.”)
FoodShare Toronto is a not-for-profit community organization in Toronto that has focused on helping people acquire healthy and nutritious foods for over 25 years.
The organization provides a sustainable and comprehensive approach to food insecurity through a diverse range of programs. FoodShare Toronto impacts over 145,000 people each month through its programs.69 The organization’s objectives are to:
- decrease hunger through improving access to affordable food;
- promote health through the consumption of nutritious, safe food;
- increase the sustainability of the food system by supporting local, safe farming;
- build community capacity and self-determination by promoting collective activities;
- provide scalable participatory models to solve food access problems;
- offer support around the production, distribution, and consumption of safe food.70
FoodShare Toronto offers the following programs:
- Good Food Box: This program enables families to purchase boxes of fresh produce from local farmers for a subsidized fee. Customers pay between $13 and $34, depending on the size of the food box.
- School programs: FoodShare supports student nutrition programs in the City of Toronto. Through its partners, FoodShare helps serve 141,000 meals and snacks to children and youth in schools and community sites each school day.
- Community gardens: FoodShare has developed many community gardens in low-income neighbourhoods, city parks, schools, and community sites. Members living in low-income and urban areas can use these gardens to grow their own plants, fruit, and vegetables.
- Community kitchens: FoodShare operates a number of collective kitchens. It has also helped set up community kitchens with First Nations families in a public school. Family and community members are able to come together to cook large quantities of food that is shared through these kitchens.
- Food policy programs: FoodShare advocates for innovative and just food policies that target poverty, health, and environmental issues that will improve the state of food security.
- Training centre: FoodShare developed a training centre that provides community members and organizations with the tools and knowledge necessary to develop their own food security programs. It delivers workshops, publishes newsletters on the topic, runs a resource library, and provides interactive resources through its online “toolbox.”71
-In 2011, FoodShare Toronto:
- provided 43,000 Good Food Boxes to 7,000 families;
- delivered affordable fresh vegetables and fruit to 285 Student Nutrition, school, and community programs—feeding over 67,000 children weekly;
- delivered 36 hands-on workshops, networking, and training events to 1,600 people on 17 topics related to community gardens, community kitchens, and good food markets;
- facilitated four new community gardens working with community groups and Toronto Community Housing;
- led 60 community kitchens, providing training and community development opportunities for 700 individuals;
- taught 113 workshops reaching 1,166 parents in Mandarin, Spanish, Tamil, and English on how to make healthy, cost-effective baby and toddler food;
- delivered hands-on food literacy activities and workshops to 3,147 students across Toronto, and shared dynamic resources and lesson plans with 782 teachers and community leaders.72
Through its varied programs, FoodShare Toronto addresses a number of factors associated with food insecurity. By offering several options for residents in local communities to access cost-effective food, it speaks to the factors of low income, geographic isolation, and lack of transportation. In addition, opportunities for children, families, and youth to learn about what constitutes healthy food, and how to budget for and prepare healthy food, improves food literacy. Programs that bring members of the community together generate a sense of togetherness and raise awareness of food insecurity issues in each respective community. Through community-building efforts, the programs empower local neighbourhoods to strive for sustainable solutions to food insecurity.
International Initiatives Canada is not alone in experiencing food insecurity issues within its borders. Other countries have implemented innovative models from which Canada might learn:
- The U.S. departments of Agriculture, Treasury, and Health and Human Services combine resources to increase access to healthy, affordable food through various programs. Thus, the WIC Farmers’ Market Nutrition Program (FMNP) uses a coupon system to provide fresh, locally grown fruit and vegetables; health care referrals; and nutrition education at no cost to low-income pregnant women, new mothers, and young children who are at nutritional risk.73 In addition, the U.S. federal government announced the $400-million Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) in 2010 to provide funding to support food access projects in underserved communities.74
- The National School Lunch Program in the United States provided 31.8 million school children with free or low-cost lunches at a cost of $11.1 billion for the 2011 fiscal year.75
- Food 2030 articulates the United Kingdom’s first comprehensive food strategy in over 50 years. It provides guidance to farmers, the fishing industry, food processors, retailers, the food service industry, government, local and regional bodies, consumers, research and education bodies, and third-sector (civil society) organizations on how to achieve a sustainable and secure food system by 2030.76
- The Australian government is developing Australia’s first-ever national food plan to “foster a sustainable, globally competitive, resilient food supply that supports access to nutritious and affordable food.”77
Throughout the years, numerous programs have been established to alleviate food insecurity. Many of these were intended to provide better access to food for food-insecure households. They all have helped to some degree by providing hungry Canadians with food options. Yet, many of them are limited in reach. Some programs serve only certain population groups in specific geographical locations. In other cases, they offer emergency relief without a more sustainable and long-term approach to alleviating food insecurity.
In addition, many programs do not explicitly measure the effects, outcomes, or impacts of their efforts on reducing food insecurity. While data capture is not always reasonable or realistic, the absence of such information makes it hard to determine program effectiveness and where to make further investments of money and resources.
Despite all the efforts being made, some 2 million Canadians are still food-insecure. The next chapter discusses what more could be done to improve the state of household food security in Canada and provides recommendations for action
- A comprehensive approach to food insecurity should include short-term solutions that address immediate needs and long-term solutions to build a sustainable food-secure state for Canadians.
- A pan-Canadian school meal program should be established to help ensure that children and youth have access to sufficient safe and nutritious foods in their everyday settings.
- Governments can collaborate with and encourage more businesses to participate in efforts to bring fresh food to local communities at affordable prices.
- Governments and businesses should collaborate to further reduce food costs in Northern regions and improve the availability of food to residents in the North.
Substantial efforts have already been made to improve the state of food security in Canada. Governments, businesses, community organizations, and other groups have enacted policies and programs to address the various factors influencing household food insecurity. Yet, 2 million people in Canada are still food-insecure. Multiple issues still need to be resolved before universal food security can hope to be reached. Overall, strategies to alleviate food insecurity for the long term should be holistic, taking multiple issues into account. Governments, industry, communities, and individuals all have roles to play in ensuring that all households in Canada are food-secure.
Challenges to Overcome
Needs of Low-Income Households
Households with low income levels struggle with the basic necessities of life, including shelter and food. Low income is a key factor in food insecurity, as a lack of funds prevents individuals from accessing and purchasing food for their households. Many of the programs and initiatives that focus on reducing food insecurity provide households with easier access to food, but do not address the long-term problem of an ongoing shortage of household funds for essentials. There are a number of government subsidies, tax credits, and other means of assistance available to qualified individuals and households. These efforts help households, with low income levels, provide for the basic necessities, but also fall short of being long-term strategies for change.
Needs of Children and Youth
Children and youth are over-represented among foodinsecure individuals in Canada. Despite the efforts already being made to provide better access food to families, some children continue to suffer from food insecurity and malnourishment. Although there are several good school-feeding programs operating in Canada, it is the only G8 country without a national school-feeding program. A national school nutrition program would help to improve nutritional outcomes for food-insecure children.
Needs of Northern Populations
The costs of food and hunting in the North remain very high, even after existing subsidy programs are taken into consideration. Those living in remote locations with an extreme climate are vulnerable due to a very short local growing season and high transportation costs for non-local foods. Further, some foods that were formerly subsidized by the Food Mail program are no longer included under the Nutrition North Canada program. As a result, the price of some important food items has risen significantly. For example, in Arctic Bay, it costs $27.79 for margarine and $19.49 for a brick of cheese.1 Costs have also risen for cheese spreads, jam, honey, and pastas, and other products that are no longer on the list of subsidized food.2 In addition, since the subsidies are directed at retailers, market prices can vary significantly.
Strategies for Food Security
Achieving food security depends on removing barriers that make it difficult for households to access sufficient safe and nutritious food. Canadians need a systematic and sustainable approach to alleviating domestic household food insecurity. A comprehensive approach should include a mix of short-term solutions that address immediate needs and long-term solutions to build a sustainable food-secure future for all Canadians.
A successful model for improving food security in Canada will address the roles of food supply and demand in resolving food security issues. Roles and responsibilities for governments, civil society, consumers, and industry should be clear and acceptable to all parties in order to obtain their needed participation. A comprehensive, national approach to improving household food security should consider the following recommendations for short- and long-term solutions:
While working toward the long-term goal of eradicating food insecurity in Canadian households, short-term measures will be needed to fill food security gaps. Efforts will continue to be needed to provide immediate and emergency food supplies to food-insecure households; easier access to affordable and nutritious food; and households with the tools and ability to acquire their own food. Expanding on successful models of food security programs and adopting innovative approaches will lead to higher success rates in the future. Specific recommendations include the following:
1. Implement a pan-Canadian school nutrition program. Ensuring that children and youth have access to sufficient safe and nutritious foods in their everyday settings is critical to reducing food insecurity for this vulnerable population group.
National school meal programs are used in each of the other G8 countries as a practical means of reaching food-insecure school-age children directly to offset hunger and insufficient nutrition.
Provincial and territorial governments should implement a pan-Canadian school nutrition program comprising provincial- and territorial-wide school nutrition programs in each of the 13 jurisdictions in order to address food insecurity for children and youth. The program should provide and manage funding for each school or school board to develop a nutrition program for its students. Payment for school meal programs should be based on the income level of each individual participating family. Households or families with lower incomes should be required to pay only a minimal amount at most, so that all children in need have the opportunity to receive the same type of nutrition at a cost their families can afford. Ongoing assessments should be part of the program design, to determine the real impacts of the school nutrition programs on reducing food insecurity for children and youth.
2. Support government/industry/community collaborations to make food more accessible to foodinsecure households.
Collaborative efforts can resolve many of the large and complex challenges of food insecurity. Governments, industries, and community organizations should collaborate with resources and knowledge to develop sustainable ways to make food accessible to food-insecure households.
Governments can contribute funding for community programs and tax credits for businesses that participate in community programs. Governments can also provide support, such as expertise or assistance with marketing or managing community food security efforts. This would help to expand the scale of local programs with a track record of success in improving food security. Community groups, organizations, and agencies are well-suited to organize and operate food security programs because of their local knowledge of food needs and potential food suppliers. Excellent models of community programs, such as community gardens and kitchens, greenhouses, food rescue, and others, should be expanded or replicated in communities that could benefit from food security interventions.
Comprehensive food supply or access models work well in lower-income communities with sufficient resources. They offer a range of options for those experiencing moderate to severe food insecurity. Ensuring emergency relief food supplies is a fundamental requirement in a community where severe food insecurity is prevalent. Other avenues to obtain free or low-cost food—including community gardens and kitchens, food rescue operations, and others—afford users the ability to make choices around their food budgets and meal planning. Having options is important to preserve the dignity, independence, and self-confidence of people experiencing food insecurity.
In addition, comprehensive food supply models often incorporate efforts to improve food literacy, such as through the inclusion of recipes in a Good Food Box or growing food in a community garden or greenhouse. When families and children improve their food literacy, they improve their knowledge and understanding of how to budget for, choose, and prepare nutritious meals as part of a healthy lifestyle.
The excess supply of edible food that is found in most communities could be better managed for redistribution to those in need. Businesses such as restaurants, hotels, caterers, and retail food outlets should be approached about volunteer participation in community food security efforts, such as food rescue or markets for lowerincome shoppers. Raising awareness of the benefits of participating in local food security efforts will help businesses see how they can make a difference. A better understanding of why some businesses decline to participate in community food security initiatives would also help in creating more effective marketing messages for them. Further research on effective models of community programs should be conducted and the results widely shared with potential organizers and supporters.
Governments can work with industry to reduce food insecurity. – –
- Governments should collaborate with and encourage more producers to participate in efforts to bring fresh food to local communities at affordable prices, such as farmer’s markets and community-supported agriculture approaches.3
- Governments and businesses should collaborate to further reduce the cost of food in Northern regions and improve the availability of food to residents.
- Governments and food sector businesses should explore innovative international models, such as food vouchers and coupons, for low-income households. Food vouchers could be provided by governments to enable low-income households to purchase healthy foods. Businesses, such as grocery stores and local markets, could work with community agencies to offer coupons to households in need. This could increase a business’s clientele base and encourage people to buy from the participating business.
- Governments and industry leaders should consider developing more grocery stores and supermarkets in “food deserts” and remote or low-income neighbourhoods (as is done in the U.S.), consistent with profitable operation. One possibility is to implement “mini” grocery outlets. Food businesses could expand their reach while catering to the needs of some of the smaller communities.
- Similarly, governments should consider providing convenience stores with subsidies to offer fresh produce. In many low-income neighborhoods, residents have easy access to local shops and convenience stores, but these typically do not offer many healthy options. Providing these retailers with a “fresh produce subsidy” would enable them to sell fresh produce at a reasonable cost to residents in the area.
These programs create opportunities for businesses to reach larger population groups. Such efforts could provide whole neighbourhoods with better access to fresh, nutritious foods. Collaborative efforts to analyze and evaluate the best approaches to address the household food security issues in relevant jurisdictions are called for.
3. Increase support for outreach efforts to the isolated and at-risk.
Outreach to mitigate food insecurity for isolated and at-risk populations is especially beneficial. Some at-risk population groups, including Aboriginal peoples, loneparent families, women, children, recent immigrants, and the elderly, already benefit concurrently from multiple food security programs. For instance, recent immigrant women and children who are part of single-parent households benefit from social assistance/income support programs as well as local community efforts such as food banks, community gardens, or good food boxes.
However, some individuals are not currently served by food security improvement efforts. Individuals and households experiencing food insecurity may be challenged by different factors, such as low income or a lack of access to transportation, even if they live in the same community. Food security efforts that address a single factor will not help all those in need in these cases. Instead, comprehensive programs are the most practical way of addressing multiple factors for multiple at-risk population groups. When comprehensive programs (i.e., that offer a range of options to address food security issues) are not feasible, programs that address the challenges affecting as many at-risk population groups as possible should be the priority.
Governments, businesses, and community organizations can help by researching and maintaining information on the food security needs of isolated or at-risk population groups in their jurisdiction. Citizens can help by educating themselves on the food security issues in their communities. Everyone can help by participating (through funding, supporting, donating, volunteering, etc.).
4. Encourage volunteerism and engagement in food security initiatives.
Individuals and organizations bring knowledge and needed skills to food security initiatives that benefit all participants. Governments, businesses, and community groups should all market the benefits of volunteering and participating in local food security initiatives. Creating more opportunities and incentives for people and organizations to participate in local food security programs is a key to expanding reach and impact.
Community initiatives to address food insecurity have the added benefit of building social capital by encouraging collaboration and camaraderie within neighbourhoods. Participating in collaborative activities—such as community gardens and kitchens, greenhouses, and subsidized markets—can help families in need overcome some of the negative psychological implications of food insecurity. It also allows them to learn from others facing similar challenges.
Canada’s long-term goal for domestic food security should be to eradicate food insecurity in Canadian households. Efforts to achieve this must address the key risk factors of household food insecurity, including low income levels, the costs of non-food essentials, and low food literacy levels. Long-term solutions will provide households with the knowledge of how to choose, store, and prepare such foods and the means and ability to acquire sufficient safe and nutritious foods. The following are specific recommendations:
1. Improve food literacy levels.
Businesses, governments, and communities should help food-insecure people make the best possible food choices with their financial resources. To that end, governments and industries should increase their efforts to educate everyone on healthy eating, and give them tools to acquire fresh and healthy produce affordably.
Communities should consider how to provide members with tips on how to cook and buy the right food (i.e., ones that contribute to a healthy and nutritious diet). Community kitchens are one model for encouraging people to teach one another how to cook and develop strategies for acquiring food.
Traditional Aboriginal or country foods are an important source of nutrients for Northern populations. However, throughout the years, the tradition of harvesting, hunting, and cooking these foods has been eroded across generations due to high costs of hunting, environmental issues, etc. Additional efforts by governments, industries, and communities to provide information and training in traditional ways of acquiring and preparing foods would help preserve the skills and knowledge of maintaining a self-sufficient healthy diet. Further, education on how to make healthy food choices from “western” food options would also be beneficial for communities that are less familiar with non-healthy foods.
2. Make public transportation more affordable for lowincome households.
Several factors associated with food insecurity are related to the costs of non-food essentials such as transportation. Strategies to improve food security should address these, as they influence household funds available for food. Governments and businesses should consider “working upstream” to meet these challenges. In other words, they should look beyond the immediate issue of access to sufficient safe and nutritious food to other contributing factors. A comprehensive food security strategy might recognize and address influencing factors, such as the costs of transportation, that are part of everyday life.
Governments should consider providing low-income households with public transportation passes. People who live in isolated areas or who must travel a distance, either by car or public transportation, to reach a supermarket or grocery store are especially tied to paying transportation costs. Providing more low-income households with subsidized transportation would allow people in need to allocate more money toward food, and facilitate their access to grocery stores and fresh, nutritious foods. Efforts to increase the use of public transportation also help to encourage increased physical activity (i.e., through increased walking and less automobile dependency), mitigate the impact of traffic congestion, and improve air quality.
3. Ensure that agricultural policies have a household food security lens.
Agricultural policy can work toward alleviating household food insecurity by ensuring that food insecurity issues are reviewed as part of the policy development process. For instance, policies that increase the affordability of fresh produce for low-income populations would assist those at-risk groups in obtaining more fruit and vegetables. Policy options to explore include providing commodity subsidies for fruit and vegetables, subsidized crop insurance for fruit and vegetable farmers, and transportation subsidies for farmers to transport produce from farm to market.
4. Invest in strategies to address low income/poverty.
Household food insecurity is linked to ongoing challenges with low income or poverty. While many programs offer subsidies and tax cuts to low-income households, they do not prevent low income: rather, they act to reduce the effects of low income. A forward-thinking strategy would be to create a more integrated approach to address low income and poverty issues.4
For example, the National Council of Welfare’s proposed strategy includes developing a long-term vision and measurable targets and timelines, a coordinated plan of action and budget, a government accountability structure, and a set of poverty indicators.5 Another approach to consider is a Guaranteed Annual Income (GAI), as explored in the Mincome experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba, in the 1970s. Providing a basic income floor was shown to have positive results in Dauphin in terms of education and health outcomes. A GAI has the potential to reduce poverty levels, thereby cutting food insecurity in low-income households.
5. Track, study, and evaluate household food security initiatives to find effective programs to support and replicate.
Large information gaps exist concerning the effectiveness of household food security improvement efforts in Canada. Many household food security programs cite anecdotal evidence of success, but do not track quantifiable data over time. Identifying specific goals and measurement metrics in the early stages of program development will improve the focus of household food security initiatives and provide important information concerning the most effective aspects of the program. Assessments should include both qualitative and quantitative data. Tracking and evaluating program results will therefore ensure that policy-makers and industry partners have the evidence they need to justify continued investments in household food security programs that improve the lives of Canadians.
Longitudinal studies of household food security levels in Canada, especially of isolated and at-risk population groups, would help policy-makers determine how successful our domestic programs are, as well as where future investments and improvements would be most effective. To fill data gaps, literature reviews of successful household food security initiatives must often turn to international data to find evidence of longitudinal data.
Although food insecurity affects only a minority of the Canadian population, it is a particularly tenacious problem and requires a strategic approach if it is to be eradicated. Efforts already being made are commendable and are having positive, if short-term, effects. Only by addressing the root causes of, or factors associated with, food insecurity, will long-term success be achieved. Commitment to address the factors of food insecurity, by governments, businesses, community organizations, and citizens, will be required before Canada can boast that all of its citizens are food-secure.