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Often, we don’t think twice about the food in our fridge, but for some Canadians, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), this is not the case... In a previous blog post, we explored factors that contribute to Canadian household food insecurity, including the interactions between race, low income, home ownership, and level of education. Part II of this post looks into the physical and mental toll of food insecurity, and what we can do to change these trends.

 


 

Effects of Food Insecurity

 

Food insecurity is a public health problem. Food security status has a profound impact on household health and wellbeing. Below are some of the consequences of food insecurity.

  • Physical Health - Food insecurity can harm the physical health of both children and adults. Micronutrient deficiencies, poor sleeping patterns, and lower diet quality are common results of food insecurity. Such issues are contributing factors to becoming more vulnerable to health conditions such as diabetes, asthma, and obesity. In children, food insecurity issues can lead to lower physical functions, increased developmental risks, and poor educational outcomes.

  • Mental Health - Food insecurity has a profound effect on the mental health of an individual. The stressors brought on by food insecurity can increase the rate of mental health problems such as depression, mood disorders, and behavioral problems. 

Higher household food insecurity is tightly linked to rising health care costs. Access to an adequate diet will aid in reducing healthcare bills and place less strain on the nation’s healthcare system.

 

 

Addressing BIPOC Household Food Insecurity

 

Systemic oppression stemming from white supremacy and settler colonialism has left detrimental and lasting effects on Black and Indigenous households. To address these issues, a multifaceted approach with measurable timelines and targets is essential. Food charity organizations such as community kitchens and food banks help mitigate immediate food security concerns. However, food charity often depoliticizes the food insecurity issue. Charitable organizations cannot fix deeply embedded food insecurity issues that are too often offloaded onto them. Governments at all levels must use their power to influence system changes with special regard to the housing market, employment sector, and education system.

 

Land Access

  • Full access to the rights to land and water for all Indigenous peoples — rights they are entitled to. 
  • In low-income neighborhoods, there is often limited access to healthy and affordable food. The BIPOC community must be included in the food growing process. To cultivate food sovereignty, communities require land to grow, manage, and distribute culturally appropriate food.
    • To assist BIPOC farmers, increased accessibility to farm loans is necessary.
inside of a greenhouse at Black Creek Community Farm showing small plants sprouting

(Photo credit: Vivian Ma, taken at Black Creek Community Farm)

 

Income and Social Support 

  • Need for evidence-based policy interventions and leadership by the federal government, targeted to the source of the problem.
  • Better economic opportunities and income support. The income gap can be closed by increasing equitable access to adequate employment.
  • Advocacy aimed at senior government levels to move towards a living wage — the hourly wage necessary to meet basic expenses. A guaranteed national income would be most impactful.
  • Provincial and territorial governments have the power to engage in policies including minimum wages, social assistance, and housing programs.
    • Adjust the level of social assistance to match the cost of basic necessities.
    • The Canada Child Benefit (CCB) has proven helpful in reducing food insecurity in low-income families. Reassess benefits such as CCB and Canada Workers Benefit (CWB) to ensure adequate support.

 

Community

  • Support for Black and Indigenous food producers. 
  • Increased funding for food justice centered farms and organizations such as Afri-Can Food Basket and Black Creek Community Farm. Such organizations focus on those most affected by food insecurity and hold a commitment to dismantling racism in the food system.
  • Sundance Harvest is an urban farm located in Toronto, Ontario. They are committed to eliminating institutionalized racism in the food system.  A free mentorship program called Growing in the Margins provides urban farming education for marginalized youth within the food system.
  • Support for community food programs such as The SEED in Guelph, Ontario.

We have societal responsibilities to our community, such that we must stand up for injustices and actively try to mitigate the problems of food injustice. We require a national strategy centered around long-term solutions. Anti-oppression frameworks can be developed in workplaces and institutions to further combat racism. It is not enough to be sympathetic towards these issues, action is needed. A multifaceted approach featuring economic support and opportunities will aid in the wellbeing of the most vulnerable populations and allow for the cultivation of food sovereignty within these communities. 

 

 

Supporting Articles:

  1. Brown, E.M., and Tarasuk, V. (2019). Money speaks: Reductions in severe food insecurity follow the Canada Child Benefit. Preventative Medicine, 129, 105876. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ypmed.2019.105876

  2. Roberts, Melana. (2020, February 3). Black Food Insecurity in Canada. Broadbent Institute. www.broadbentinstitute.ca/Black_food_insecurity_in_canada
  3. Suga, H. (2018). Household Food Unavailability Due to Financial Constraints Affects the Nutrient Intake of Children. European Journal of Public Health, 29(5), 816-820. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cky263
  4. Tarasuk V, and Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. PROOF. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf
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Often, we don’t think twice about the food in our fridge, but for some Canadians, especially those who identify as Black, Indigenous, and People of Colour (BIPOC), this is not the case. Food insecurity is characterised by concerns of running out of food, nutrient inadequacies, and in severe cases, not eating for several whole days. Unfortunately, BIPOC communities have a significantly higher chance of facing household food insecurity mainly due to a lower average income. This income issue is a direct consequence of deeply ingrained systemic racism. Policies reflecting systemic colonialism continue to advantage white people, leading to racial inequities in all aspects of life for the BIPOC community. 

 

A groups of red pawns gathered closely together, and one black pawn separated from the group

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

 

The disparity between white and BIPOC households when it comes to food security has been a lasting issue in Canada. 1 in 8 Canadian households, amounting to over 4 million people, struggle with food insecurity on a daily basis. Among this population, there is a disproportionate number of BIPOC households. The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the existing inequities in these marginalized communities.

 

A bar graph showing the proportion of Canadian households of various racial/cultural identities and Indigenous status that are food insecure

Prevalence of household food insecurity in relation to racial/cultural identity and Indigenous status. Reproduced from "Household Food Insecurity in Canada," PROOF: Food Insecurity Policy Research.

 

Food insecurity rates are highest in Nunavut, where Indigenous households make up the majority of the population. Across Canada, 28.2% of Indigenous households and 28.9% of Black households are food insecure, while only 11.1% of white households are food insecure. Black Canadians and Indigenous peoples are significantly more likely to face food insecurity compared to white Canadians, even when accounting for factors like homeownership, income, and education levels. 

 

 

Trends in Household Food Insecurity

 

There are many factors to account for when examining food insecurity in BIPOC households. Contributing factors for greater food insecurity include, but are not limited to:

  • Low wages and Unemployment – One of the major reasons for food insecurity within BIPOC households is the enduring and prevailing racial income inequality. Tarasuk (2020) found that food insecurity affects 60.4% of households relying on social assistance, a demographic mainly consisting of the BIPOC community. Similarly, a publication by the Metcalf Foundation found that the largest group of the working poor, a class of working citizens that fall below the poverty line, in Toronto consists of racialized individuals. Namely, Black females, Black males, and South Asian Males. Families that are dealing with financial problems are likely to have little money left to spend on food after they pay their mortgage or rent.
  • Race – Low-income white households experience certain levels of food insecurity as well, but there are privileges inherent to their race that allow them to bounce back in ways that BIPOC households cannot. A research collaboration between PROOF and Food Share (2019) has shown that race is an overwhelming predictor of food insecurity. Within the Canadian population, Black and Indigenous households are at the greatest risk of food insecurity.  

  • Housing – Homeownership greatly protects against food insecurity. However, this privilege differs by race. According to Tarasuk (2020), 61% of food-insecure households are renting their home. A slight increase in the minimum wage in recent years is not enough to offset the rising rental costs in many neighbourhoods and cities such as Toronto. 

A set of keys next to a small red and white toy house

Photo by Tierra Mallorca on Unsplash

 

  • Education – There is an evident connection between education and household food security. The quality of education that you receive predicts how much you are going to earn. The structural barriers and lack of equal opportunities when it comes to education between white and BIPOC Canadians is a direct contributor to the food insecurity problem.

Household food insecurity compromises the health and wellbeing of those affected. Deeply embedded racial biases and policies continue to persist and affect BIPOC households across Canada. Understanding the roots of food insecurity allows us to tackle this issue on all fronts. 

 

 

Supporting Articles:

  1. Dhunna, S., and Tarasuk, V. (2019). Fact Sheet: Race and Food Insecurity. Proof and FoodShare. https://foodshare.net/custom/uploads/2019/11/PROOF_factsheet_press_FINAL.6.pdf
  2. Roberts, Melana. (2020, February 3). Black Food Insecurity in Canada. Broadbent Institute. www.broadbentinstitute.ca/Black_food_insecurity_in_canada
  3. Stapleton, J. (2019). The Working Poor in the Toronto Region: A closer look at the increasing numbers. Metcalf Foundation. https://metcalffoundation.com/site/uploads/2019/11/Working-Poor-2019-NEW.pdf
  4. Suga, H. (2018). Household Food Unavailability Due to Financial Constraints Affects the Nutrient Intake of Children. European Journal of Public Health, 29(5), 816-820. https://doi.org/10.1093/eurpub/cky263
  5. Tarasuk V, and Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf
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