Community Food Centres Canada recently shared an op-ed written by their CEO, Nick Saul, entitled “The new Canada Food Guide highlights the biggest obstacle to healthy eating—poverty.”
The new Canada Food Guide, he says, aims to support people to live healthier lives. It’s an impressive document that provides evidence-based guidance for what to eat—more plants and plant-based protein, more whole grains, less sugar, less saturated fat—and also how to eat—at home, with others, with joy and pleasure. The addition of this social context is important, as we know the incredible power food has to bring people together.
But Saul goes on to say that the question we need to ask is who gets to put all this good research and thinking into practice. The answer, of course, should be everyone. But for many, the recommendations are too far out of reach. The chronic insecurity they struggle with is caused by deep poverty and inequality—it’s not something that just pops up when the price of cauliflower spikes.
“Every day I think about who’s not eating in this country. The number is in the millions—nearly 13 per cent of our neighbours. The facts are hard to digest. Thirty-one per cent of single mothers are missing meals so their kids can eat. One in six children are living in households that can’t afford to put supper on the table. The situation is even more dire in the north: 55 per cent of Inuit living in Nunavut struggle with food insecurity. Hard to imagine this reality co-existing with the neighbourly compassion we pride ourselves on, and that runs deep in our country.
Do the math and you start to understand the anxiety and stress that low-income Canadians struggle with every day. According to 2018 Ottawa Health Unit data, a family of four on Ontario Works had $1,014 a month left to spend after rent. The cost of a nutritious food basket was $868, leaving only $146 to cover all other expenses, including transportation, clothing and utilities. Things are worse in Indigenous communities: in Attawapiskat, the cost of a nutritious food basket is $1,909 per month. No amount of creative budgeting can make that amount last until the end of the month. Food is often the first thing to go.
The health consequences of this massive vulnerability around food are severe. People who don’t eat regularly or are forced to eat the cheapest food available are some of the sickest in our country. Name the chronic disease—type 2 diabetes, heart disease, hypertension—and people living on low incomes are there in numbers that far exceed the national average. Diet-related diseases are the single biggest risk factor for death and disability in this country. They reduce quality of life and opportunity for millions of Canadians. They cost our health-care system $26 billion every year. And this massive health inequity diminishes us as a society.” Nick Saul
At SIRCH we care deeply about reducing poverty and connecting people. We have been blessed to have some amazing partnerships and supporters that help us chip away at food insecurity. With the generous donations and supports from businesses, organizations and individuals, we have been able to give nutritious food to those who need it most, not only through our regular programs but to the community at large. The free Thursday lunches during February were a huge hit. Cook It Up free lunches start at Molly’s in Minden on Tuesday, March 12 and run until May. Our caring Community Kitchen volunteers cook and freeze delicious meals to give out throughout the year. Farmers and gardeners donate produce during the growing season. In the fall, dozens of people pick apples from their trees for the Applesauce Project. And several other initiatives are in the works. Together we can and will make a difference!