The following letter to the editor was submitted by Jenna Zardo from Urban Pantry, a community food security program, part of the Just Recovery Simcoe initiative.
Over four million Canadians, one quarter of whom are children, do not have adequate access to food.
The recent Beyond Hunger report by Community Food Centres Canada highlights the scope of food insecurity, which has been made worse by the pandemic and oppressive systems like institutional racism.
One in seven Canadians now struggle to put food on the table due to layoffs and economic downturn. Food insecurity is a human rights issue and to address the root cause, Urban Pantry advocates for income solutions that make it more affordable for Canadians to meet their basic needs with dignity.
In our work setting up community gardens, teaching food skills and delivering the Barrie Good Food Box, we see the value of community food programs. We also know that food banks assist people with immediate food relief in times of hardship.
Unfortunately, food charity - mostly in the form of food banks - has become a band-aid solution that does not get to the root of the problem. Governments at all levels rely on charities to do the impossible task of solving food insecurity through charity alone. We need to support community food organizations and food banks.
But more importantly, we need policies that address food insecurity as a poverty issue that can only be solved through income solutions.
We are thankful to work alongside the Simcoe Muskoka District Health Unit when delivering community food programming. Their No Money for Food is Cent$less campaign hits the nail on the head; it advocates for an increase in social assistance rates to match real living costs (indexed to inflation); supporting fair workplaces and good jobs with regular hours and benefits; increasing minimum wage; and providing a basic income for all Ontarians. Until these income solutions are implemented, we are unlikely to see any reduction in the number of people who struggle with not having enough money to put food on the table.
What else can be done? The Ontario Dietitians in Public Health recommend asking the provincial government for the release date of their new Poverty Reduction Strategy. Additionally, Community Food Centres Canada (CFC) has identified that the federal government needs to set targets and improve reporting on food insecurity, and ensure progress on food security is achieved equitably.
Better data collection is needed, including annual reporting by Statistics Canada and the collection of race-based data. CFC also advocates for an indigenous food sovereignty fund to invest in culturally appropriate forms of food that support local communities and ecosystems.
This is why Urban Pantry has joined Just Recovery Simcoe, an alliance between 40 groups and businesses from across Simcoe County proposing solutions that focus on increasing the health of people, our communities and nature.
We envision a future where people can enjoy the foods they want without needing to rely on food charity. We want communities where every person has sufficient income to access fresh, nutritious, culturally appropriate food. After all, there is nothing like food, to connect diverse peoples and keep them working together towards shared solutions. Visit www.justrecoverysimcoe.ca to learn more.
About Urban Pantry: Urban Pantry is a community food security program led by the Canadian Mental Health Association that delivers food skills, urban agriculture, and food access opportunities in Barrie and Simcoe County. Written by Jenna Zardo.