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Food: privilege or human right?

Grinch "Who Feast""Who Feast" Illustration by Theodor Geisal (Dr. Seuss) in How the Grinch Stole Christmas

At this time of year, many Canadians have a reason to celebrate. Regardless of which holiday it is that brings you and yours together, my guess is that food will be a major part of the celebrations. The opportunity to break bread with the ones we love is a privilege that many of us take for granted, but is not one that is afforded to every Canadian.

Perhaps you have heard of campaigns from your local food centre or food bank, and maybe you have even donated to one. But are you aware of what it truly means to be food secure or insecure and do you know how food insecurity impacts Canadian lives every day?  If not, don’t worry. I am going to fill you in.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines food security as economic and physical access to healthy food that people enjoy. Food insecurity occurs when nutritious food is not available to people, the amount of food available is insufficient, or there are barriers to safe and effective food preparation (e.g., sanitation issues). 

Why is this important?

Understanding Canada’s current state of food security and insecurity is important because the WHO reports that food security is tightly linked to health and wellbeing.

At the CIW, we know that food security is important to the living standards of Canadians. Using data from the 2012 Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), I looked into just how many Canadians are food secure versus moderately or severely food insecure. Here is what I found:

Household food security status by province or territory

Data source: Statistics Canada CANSIM table 105-0546

At first glance, you might think we are doing quite well. The food secure bar is certainly longer than the food insecure bar, but we are concerned with the 7.6% to 36.7% of Canadian households in each province or territory that deal with moderate or severe food insecurity every single day. Take a look at the food insecurity rate in the Territories compared to most provinces. Nunavut in particular has a prevalence of food insecurity (36.7%) that is over four times the national average (8.5%). Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and New Brunswick also have higher food insecurity rates compared to most provinces and the Canadian average.

I also looked at how food insecurity impacts Canadians of different age groups:

Food insecurity in Canada by age group

Data source: Statistics Canada CANSIM table 105-0547, 2011-2012

As you can see, young adults (age 20-34) are the most affected by moderate to severe food insecurity, followed closely by teenagers and 35-44 year olds. Fewer Canadians over the age of 65 (less than 3%) are dealing with issues of food insecurity compared to other age groups. In every age group, a higher percentage of women than men are moderately to severely food insecure. 

How does food insecurity impact the wellbeing of Canadians?

According to PROOF, lower levels of food security are associated with:

  • lower feelings of overall health;
  • lower mental health;
  • lower physical health;
  • greater stress; and
  • higher likelihood of chronic conditions (e.g., diabetes, hypertension, mood disorder). 

PROOF report on household food insecurity in Canada

Figure source: PROOF report on household food insecurity in Canada, 2013

What you can do

While solving food insecurity in Canada is a large, policy-driven issue, there are certainly some things that you can do to help in your community. Donating your time, talent or treasure to a soup kitchen or community-driven food centre are great ways to contribute to the physical and social wellbeing of people in your community. A great place to start reading about how you can support efforts toward reducing food insecurity in your area is the Community Food Centres Canada website. For more information on Food Security in Canada and what you can do to create change, take a look at the Food Secure Canada website.

From our team to you and your families, we ask that you take a moment to appreciate the privilege. We look forward to the day when access to healthy food will be treated as a human right that all Canadians enjoy, rather than a privilege for some.

What will you do this holiday to support members of your community? Tweet us at @CIWNetwork.

Stay well, folks!

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