Food is a fundamental human need that supports our physical, mental and emotional health and is essential to our survival. It’s also a joy and a pleasure, with social aspects that connect us to our community and culture. Unfortunately, many people — whether in our own neighbourhoods or halfway around the world — don’t know where their next meal is coming from, can’t afford the basics at the grocery store, and have to make gut-wrenching choices between buying food and paying pressing bills. It’s hard to focus on anything when you are hungry and grappling with food insecurity.
What Is Food Insecurity?
Simply put, food insecurity is not being able to buy enough food to meet your nutritional needs. It is directly linked to income.
Who Does It Affect?
Low-income communities, seniors, single parents (especially mothers) and children. Food insecurity is also a racial issue. Black, Indigenous and People of Colour, as well as immigrants, are much more likely to be food insecure.
Food Insecurity in Canada
- 4.4 million Canadians are food insecure. That’s one in 8 people.
- Food insecurity is highest in Nunavut, one of Canada’s most northern provinces.
- 1 in 6 Canadian children is food insecure.
- 28.4% of Black households contend with food insecurity, compared to 10% of white households.
- 36.6% of Black children are food insecure, compared to 12.4% of white children.
- Indigenous people are more likely to be food insecure.
Food Insecurity in the United States
- 37 million Americans are food insecure. That’s one in 9 people. 11 million of those are children.
- 21.2% of Black households and 16.2% of Hispanic households are food insecure.
- About 40 million Americans use The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to purchase food.
- 22 million American children rely on school lunches.
- American and Alaskan Indigenous are twice as likely to contend with food security than whites.
Due to COVID 19, food insecurity rates are on the rise and experts predict they will continue to worsen.
What Are Food Deserts?
Food deserts are places with little to no access to affordable, fresh and nutritious foods like fruits and vegetables, and residents are forced to travel long distances to buy food (often without a car).
- About 23.5 million people in the US live in food deserts that are more than a mile from a supermarket.
- Wealthy neighbourhoods have triple the number of grocery stores than low-income neighbourhoods, and white communities have four times the number of supermarkets than Black neighbourhoods.
- In many areas in Canada, low-income communities have inadequate access to supermarkets.
- Living in a food desert is linked to increased health risks.
Health Impacts of Food Insecurity
Living with food insecurity can have a multitude of negative health impacts. When we don’t get enough to eat, it’s more challenging to meet our basic nutritional needs and building resilience is next to impossible.
Health Impacts on Children
- Iron deficiency
- Delayed or reduced learning
- Increased risk of depression and suicidal thoughts
- Increased risk of asthma
- Childhood obesity
- Higher risk of chronic diseases later in life, like heart disease, autoimmune disease, cancer and more
Health Impacts on Adults
- Higher risk of developing chronic conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and arthritis.
- A greater possibility of being diagnosed with multiple chronic conditions
- Depression, anxiety, mood disorders or suicidal thoughts
- Challenges managing (and addressing) health problems
- For mothers, an increased risk of postpartum depression
Food Insecurity: Organizations That Are Making a Difference
There isn’t one solution to food insecurity, but many. It requires a multi-pronged approach that includes government policy, better housing, employment opportunities, social assistance, training and education, affordable fresh food markets, and more.
There are many non-profits and charities that are working to address food insecurity — and increase food sovereignty — all over the world. We’re highlighting a number of them in Canada, the US, and abroad that we have become familiar with.
About: Thrive is an organization the Academy of Culinary Nutrition has been partnered with since 2014 with our annual From Scratch Cooking fundraising cookbook. Thrive seeks to address extreme poverty by helping African communities move from reliance on food aid to self-sufficiency – even into surplus.
Qajuqturvik Community Food Centre
Indigenous Food Lab
Soul Fire Farm
About: This non-profit provides healthy, home-cooked meals to the Black Trans community. They also offer resources like community outings to plays, teach basic cooking skills, and an International Grocery Fund.
Urban Growers Collective
About: Based in Chicago’s South Side, Urban Growers Collective works to address racism in the food system and support local communities so they can have access to healthy food, education and employment opportunities. They have a variety of urban farms, train and educate young people on farming, and operate a mobile market that brings nutritious, affordable food straight to Chicago communities.
Northeast Farmers of Color Land Trust (NEFOC)
About: White landowners control nearly 100% of farmland in the Northeastern United States. NEFOC strives to achieve food sovereignty by securing land for Black, Indigenous and People of Colour so they can farm sustainably and honour their ancestor’s farming traditions. They also have a reparations map on their website so donors can directly support BIPOC.
Learn More: www.nefoclandtrust.org
What Can You Do?
- Donate to organizations in your community. The food insecurity groups mentioned above are just a small portion of what is happening around North America. Food security is grassroots, local, and community-based. Do some research into organizations in your neighbourhood, city, or province/state and donate funds.
- Volunteer your time. Volunteer opportunities have changed due to COVID, but there are many ways you can still give back to organizations that work to address food security. Perhaps you can pack produce boxes, make food deliveries, or help garden while safely physically distancing. If you have technical skills, social media expertise, marketing or canvassing experience, offer them up!
- Organize a food drive. Collect healthy, nutritious foods for organizations in your community. If you choose this route, check with the selected charity first to ensure you are collecting what they truly need.
- Write to your representatives. Get in touch with your local government representatives to tell them that food security is important to you and ask them to take action.
- Lobby for better wages. Food insecurity is inextricably linked to poverty. Many people who are food insecure are also working – they’re just not earning enough to cover all of their expenses due to low wages and a high cost of living. Explore living wage campaigns in your area, or contact your government representatives.