Written by: Lauren Anderson
Edited by: Tvisha Shah & Jacqueline Cheung
Dear CCP readers,
Food insecurity is a public health issue that has been growing in scale both internationally and here in Canada. Around 1 in 10 people experience food insecurity around the world; and in Canada, 1 in 8 households are food insecure. The leading cause of inadequate or insecure access to food is financial limitations. There are varying levels of food insecurity that many households face, but adults and children who experience homelessness certainly suffer immensely from inadequate access to food. Those who are food insecure experience hunger, poor general health, reduced ability to learn and focus, and decreased mental health.
The goals of the CCP include supporting youth facing homelessness and providing resources to mitigate community-level issues that they might face, including, food insecurity. The prevalence of individuals who remain hungry is too high, and this issue is not one we want to be overlooked. Our team is dedicated to contributing to a healthier society, including remedying social and environmental issues that have an impact on the physical and mental well-being of youth.
Today’s post will provide an overview of food insecurity in Canada, and more specifically, the impact of one’s health while living in a food desert.
If you are returning for more information regarding the current state of homelessness in Canada and the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) and the particular challenges faced by youth experiencing homelessness and those with animal companions, welcome back! If you are new to our blog, welcome to the community and thank you for your interest in learning more about issues regarding the homelessness crisis in Canada and beyond - you are one step closer to becoming a changemaker in your community, and you are in great company.
What is a food desert?
A food desert is a geographic location where there is a significant lack of substantial grocery markets with healthy food options, like produce, within a reasonable distance. This inaccessibility to nutritious food is what makes an area a food desert. There is a misconception that food deserts solely exist in rural areas with no nearby grocery stores, but food deserts are commonly found in urban areas as well.
In Toronto, there are many supermarkets, yet there are almost 31,000 households in Toronto’s lowest income areas that are more than 1km walking distance to a supermarket and 9,000 of which are more than 1km away from any type of food outlet. For many of us, we cannot imagine buying groceries for meals at a liquor store, but for people that are living in a food desert, this might be their best option and their everyday reality. In a food desert, the food that is available is unhealthy and lacks nutritional value. In lower income areas with food deserts, the food available for the community must be affordable and have long shelf-lives. Processed foods and fast food perfectly fit into these categories. The lack of nutritious food including fruits and vegetables, are not commonly found in urban food deserts, leading to a poorer general health in these communities.
The effect of poor nutrition on health and well-being
Proper nutrition is vital for human health and well-being. Eating nutritious foods daily not only provides us with greater clarity and energy, but it is vital for the continuation of a clean bill of health. The food we put into our bodies affects both our mind and body, so the effect that poor nutrition can have on the human body is tremendous. In children, food insecurity can impact their long-term physical and mental health, increase their risk for conditions like depression or asthma, and it reduces a child’s ability to succeed in school due to lack of focus. Adults face similar issues including increased chronic conditions like diabetes, depression, and heart disease.
A 5-minute documentary called, “Feeding Nunavut,” highlights food insecurity in Northern Canada in the Inuit community. The documentary describes families who must rely on the prepared food available at the local stores that do not normally fit within the Inuit diet. The area has faced a large socioeconomic shift and people struggle to pay for their meals in northern Canada. People who are food insecure have an additional stress of how many meals they can afford to feed their families per day, which is a privilege enjoyed by many. Feeding Nunavut is an important short documentary that provides the reality of living in a food desert and the difficulties it specifically creates coming from an ethnic minority background. Aside from the physical and mental implications of eating an unhealthy diet and irregular meals, there is a social element to the equation as well. In the northernmost territory of Canada, the Inuit are forced to eat outside of their normal cultural diet in order to survive. This sacrifice is one that food secure groups do not have to make.
Promoting food security will boost the livelihood of many and restore the well-being of the whole person.
Why is there limited access to nutritious foods in these areas?
The answers to this question are different when analyzing limited access to nutritious foods in rural areas versus urban areas. In rural areas, limited access to nutritious food is typically due to distance and the high expense to export foods to rural destinations. The higher the price of shipping costs, the higher the groceries will be for the local customers. In urban areas, limited access to nutritious food can be due to affordability of healthier food items, poor urban planning, inadequate food distribution systems, retail company decision making, and the walking distance length to a local market.
Since food insecurity is a major public health concern, the government and private organizations have been focusing on how to remedy this widening issue.
The future of food insecurity in Canada
Although the government of Canada has a well-established network of social programs that provide support to people and families in financial hardship, these programs are not targeted directly at food insecurity.
Some communities have suggested local community gardens and farmer’s markets to provide healthy foods at a lower cost to help eliminate food deserts. These initiatives are beneficial, but do not fully address the main issues that a food desert causes. Food banks and private initiatives to end hunger have been carrying the weight of combating food insecurity, but this is not sustainable.
In Toronto, the public health department created six themes to promote healthy changes: 1. Healthy food access; 2. Community building and inclusion; 3. Food literacy; 4. Community economic development; 5. infrastructure/supply chain; and 6. Improving the food environment. These themes encompass the various issues surrounding the idea of food insecurity. With appropriate attention to the matter, the local government in partnership with private initiatives, can eliminate food deserts in the Toronto area and end hunger in the community.
The Canadian Courage Project aims to alleviate food insecurity by means of education, and also providing material resources to members of the community. We continue to partner with organizations who donate food and products for our care kit donations and meal drop-offs with local partnering shelters.
CCP Meal Drop-off (Partnership with Pickle Barrel)
Thank you for reading our blog! Feel free to leave a comment with your feedback and/or insights to help us enrich the quality of future posts and cater to the interests of our community of changemakers.
- The CCP Team
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