In the past few years, we have heard a new expression, ‘food insecurity.’ Let’s discuss what that means, and how to approach a solution.
Food insecurity is the state of being without reliable access to a sufficient quantity of affordable, nutritious food.
There are also levels of food insecurity.
1. Chronic food insecurity: a long-term and persistent condition. A population suffers from chronic food insecurity when it is unable to meet minimum food consumption requirements for extended periods of time (approximately six months of the year or longer).
2. Transitory food insecurity: A short-term and temporary condition of food insecurity. A population suffers from transitory food insecurity when there is a sudden drop in the ability to produce or access sufficient food for a healthy nutritional status (e.g. after a period of drought or as a result of conflict).
3. Seasonal food insecurity: A condition that reoccurs predictably, following the cyclical pattern of seasons.
Food insecurity is prevalent in all areas of the globe, including our backyard, here in the Niagara region.
On average, the amount it costs to feed a family of four per month in Niagara is $849.00
One useful method of measuring food insecurity on an individual level Is the FAO’s Food Insecurity Experience Scale, which is based around the following eight questions.
During the last twelve months, was there a time when, because of lack of money or other resources:
1. You were worried you would not have enough food to eat?
2. You were unable to eat healthy and nutritious food?
3. You ate only a few kinds of foods?
4. You had to skip a meal?
5. You ate less than you thought you should?
6. Your household ran out of food?
7. You were hungry but did not eat?
8. You went without eating for a whole day?
These questions compose a scale that covers a range of severity of food insecurity from mild to severe.
Mild food insecurity Moderate food insecurity Severe food insecurity
Worrying about ability Compromising quality Reducing quantities, Experiencing
to obtain food and variety of food skipping meals hunger
Which people are more prone to food insecurity?
We can differentiate a higher risk for food insecurity for the following types of people:
- People with no land, or people that only have access to have a very small piece of land.
- Traditional artisans.
- Self-employed workers don’t have a reliable source of income.
- Impoverished people, including people living on the streets and beggars.
- Women, elders and children.
- Low-income families, single parents.
- People that rely on casual employment or season employment. In Niagara Falls, that is a very common issue.
How Can Food Insecurity Lead To Obesity?
Food insecurity may lead to a cycle of food deprivation and overeating when food becomes available. This can cause obesity. When food is scarce, people facing food insecurity may miss meals or eat a lot less. When food is abundant, people dealing with food insecurity tend to binge and overeat. The body can go into a feast or famine mode, which can cause one to gain a lot of weight. This is an unfortunate side effect one would not readily consider as a result of someone suffering from food insecurity.
It’s a huge health risk. Studies have shown that adults in food-insecure households have poorer self-rated health, poorer mental and physical health, poorer oral health, greater stress, and are more likely to suffer from chronic conditions such as diabetes, hypertension and mood and anxiety disorders.
The bigger problem is the type of food that becomes available is often fast-food. Where the food is high in fat, and calories. Or, it’s often non-perishable goods that lack the variety of nutrition needed to stay healthy.
What is the Cause of Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity stems from many challenges, including:
- Extreme or relative poverty
The world bank defines ‘extreme poverty‘ as living on $2.16 or less a day. However, this condition is mostly seen in third world countries, not in developing countries. In developing countries, we see what is called ‘relative poverty’ which is the condition in which people lack the minimum amount of income needed in order to maintain the average standard of living in the society in which they live. Relative poverty is considered the easiest way to measure the level of poverty in an individual country.
- Food waste
In 2017 the National Zero Waste Council conducted research on household food waste in Canada, and the results were astonishing. 63% of the food Canadians throw away could have been eaten. For the average Canadian household that amounts to 140 kilograms of wasted food per year – at a cost of more than $1,100 per year!
- Lack of access to health care and jobs
Although in Canada everyone has access to universal health care, sometimes is the access to a specific diagnosis that is lacking.
Often, there are several factors that contribute to job loss or unemployment. Some of these are low educational attainment, physical disability, mental health and substance use, criminal record, limited access to transportation, lack of experience in the field of interest, lack of vocational training, or lack of computer access in addition to low levels of computer literacy required to perform job searches and fill out online applications.
- Lack of job training for new skills
Many are forced to work in unsafe and unregulated jobs and/or are paid ‘under the table’ where the pay may be inconsistent and/or lower than average wages. Temporary work has also been described as a barrier to meaningful and permanent employment as it hinders relationship building with employers while interfering with long-term career planning. Precarious work not only foregoes benefits or a living wage but may also lead to vulnerable workers being exploited as cheap labour.
- People living in remote towns and villages
Have limited job opportunities and are often seasonal. There is an added cost for sourcing food. Having lived near these remote locations and in a small town, we understand this problem exactly. There are very few opportunities and locations to source proper food from these locations. The food typically is 20 to 30% higher in price than your typical grocery store. Some items can be double the cost. The cost of transporting any goods to these locations is higher, and the margins for store owners are even smaller. So they raise prices. What cost you $4.99 in a big city, can cost as much as $9.99 or more. Fresh vegetables, forget it. Most people who can’t afford it end up buying pre packaged products, it’s cheaper than fresh fruit and vegetables. Jobs are typically coming for a few industries. In Canada, that’s forestry and mining. Both of which require specialized skills that many people don’t qualify for. We have to find a way to get local government and the provincial governments to provide training opportunities for those industries that thrive in rural Ontario. This is part of the reason why we feel as though a change in direction is needed with how we deal with food insecurities.
- People having little or no family support
Most often, the ones in this category are children that have to assume adult roles in the household.
- Lack of community involvement
Some of the causes for the lack of involvement may be low awareness, poor communication and information sharing, lack of time, etc.
The community can help by donating time, money, materials, etc.
- Lack of effective social programs
Are we getting the right people into the right programs? There are programs or help available for almost every situation. The challenge is connecting or assessing people so they can get to the appropriate program for them.
- People’s living conditions
They may be homeless, or not have a permanent place to live.
- Cost of rent and the rising cost of food.
Rent prices have increased by almost 5% since 2019. The average rental cost for June in Canada was $1770 per month for a 2 bedroom apartment. The Average net income was $3129 per month. The recommended percentage of rent payment should be between 30%-50% of the income. According to the number above, rent is 57% of the salary. With the current cost of living and the cost of food ever increasing, how can a family afford healthy eating? No one should have to choose between having a healthy meal or having a roof over their head.
How Can We Solve Both Food Insecurity and Protect Against Obesity?
Regular access to nutritious foods is exactly what Cultivating Hope is trying to accomplish with the cultivation of fresh vegetables and produce using hydroponics.
Food can be supplied year-round, and be provided to the right people in the community of Niagara that are dealing with food insecurities. This benefits the community in a number of ways.
- Consistent quality supply of the right food.
- Food selection can be increased. We can go to a large variety of food, vegetables, and fruit through hydroponics.
- The entire community can benefit from having a locally grown food source provided to and by its own community.
Food insecurity is growing, not only in our Niagara Community but everywhere in the world. It’s something that needs to be addressed with a solution that has a plan. It’s not enough to provide people with food, or with a home. We need to address the individual causes to this problem. Although food banks, community pantries and other like-minded organizations are of great help in the community, fixing the causes can strengthen the community and help families stand on their own without needing assistance. We need to band together as a community and address our current needs.
That’s where the Cultivating Hope Foundation comes in. We’re trying to address the root causes of food insecurity with a plan that allows people to become self-sufficient by not only providing healthier food but also career training.
For more information on how you can participate in our Niagara Charity dealing with Food Insecurity – contact us.
Food Banks located in the Niagara Region:
The Hope Centre – Welland – https://www.thehopecentre.net/
Pelham Cares – Fonthill – https://pelhamcares.org/
Port Cares – Port Colborne – http://www.portcares.ca
Project SHARE – Niagara Falls – http://www.projectshare.ca
The Village Hope – VIneland – http://villageofhopeniagara.org
West Lincoln Community Care – Smithville – http://www.westlincolncc.com
The Salvation Army – Welland – http://salvationarmy.ca
Newark Neighbours – Niagara-on-the-Lake – http://www.newarkneighbours.ca
GBF Community Services – Grimsby – http://gbfgrimsby.com/
Community Outreach Program Erie (COPE) – Fort Erie
Community Care – Thorold – http://www.communitycarestca.ca
Community Care – St. Catharines – http://www.communitycarestca.ca
Community Care of West Niagara – Beamsville – http://www.communitycarewn.ca