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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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Although we produce more than enough food in Canada, people of colour are consistently our most food insecure population. 28.9% of Black Canadian households and 11.1% of White Canadian households experience food insecurity. This means that Black Canadians are approximately three times more likely to be food insecure.

 

[approximately 3 in 10 Black Canadians are food insecure; approximately 1 in 10 White Canadians are food insecure]

Prominence of Food Insecurity in Black and White Canadians. Reproduced from Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018).

 

Food insecure households often must turn to emergency food programs like food banks. Food banks are excellent resources for temporary situations but they are not often being used long-term. For many Black Canadians, food banks are not a reliable source of culturally appropriate food and, in some cases, nutritionally adequate diets.

 

I have been volunteering at foodbanks for approximately 4 years and from these experiences I can comment that some foodbanks are not as privileged as others. The majority of Canadian food banks run through a procedure where boxes of non-perishable food items are handed out to food insecure families.  Although this provides food, it cannot support a full, proper diet.  There’s often no meat, no dairy and no produce included. The harsh reality of this method is that cultural needs are neglected by this current food bank setup. Currently, this situation is being exasperated by the COVID-19 Pandemic as more Canadians seek emergency food programs. The pressures that the pandemic has placed upon the Canadian food system is an example of why long-term change has to be made.

 

Urban agriculture initiatives are a potential solution and are being pioneered by Black communities. Organizations like Black Creek Community Farm, based out of Toronto, Ontario, are notable voices in this movement. Farming in the city, whether it be in greenhouses, on rooftop farms or through outdoor community gardens, allow Black communities to address food insecurity in a self-sufficient way. By growing food in the city, Black Canadians have control over what they grow and where they grow it. This food will often be culturally appropriate, and have better nutritional value than what food banks can offer.

 

When Black Canadians can choose what food they grow, culturally important crops stand out. Urban farms like Black Creek Community Farm have become a staple for over 3000 Black Torontonians by cultivating culturally appropriate vegetables like cassava, okra and callaloo. These crops will support nutritionally adequate diets by providing a cheaper alternative for produce for Black neighbourhoods since this is not a viable option for most traditional food banks.

 

Funding and policy are the only way that urban agriculture can continue to support Black communities. As the Black Food Justice movement is only starting to take its voice in the public realm, policy makers need to start listening and invoke the appropriate changes. Emergency food programs are not capable of supporting Black Canadians long-term anymore. Permanent solutions like urban agriculture need to be considered. Policy makers need to start investing in suitable development action plans. To ensure Canada’s food system is just, Black Canadians have to have their say. They need control over their food. Urban agriculture can ensure that. Change needs to start now.

 

 

Supporting Resources:

  1. Garth, H., & Reese, A. M. (Eds.). (2020). Black Food Matters: Racial Justice in the Wake of Food Justice. University of Minnesota.
  2. Igbavboa, H., & Elliot, S. (n.d.). The Challenge of Food Sovereignty for Black Farmers in the Greater Toronto Area. https://www.ryerson.ca/content/dam/socialinnovation/News/
  3. Jabakhanji, S. (2021). Meet some of Toronto’s food justice advocates championing Black food sovereignty. CBC News. https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/toronto/black-food-sovereignty-toronto-food-advocates-1.5857154?fbclid=IwAR0SBTF1JjUAJnJTPxJqPiZvtg6kMig1abw
  4. Tarasuk, V., & Mitchell, A. (2018). Household Food Insecurity in Canada. PROOF. https://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2017-2018-Full-Reportpdf.pdf

 

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It’s estimated that the world population will grow to almost 10 billion by 2050, and as such, there will be a greater strain on the food system. This is why sustainable agriculture is becoming increasingly important to reduce climate change and promote food security in the long run.

 

Ironically, while agriculture is one of the primary industries sustaining human life, it's also a leading industry that puts a strain on the environment. From livestock farming to soil tilling, many factors in the agri-food sector contribute to the rise in greenhouse gas emissions.

 

Climate change leads to unfavourable farming conditions which jeopardize the efforts to feed a growing population. And while the effects of climate change span the globe, the communities feeling the effects most are often lower-income communities. These communities are often the lowest contributors to climate change.

 

In 2015, all the United Nations Member States adopted The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development — this included 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) to help transform and encourage action in areas of concern impacting both people and the planet.
 

SDG2 and SDG13 -- zero hunger and climate action, respectively -- are the two focal points outlined in FAO’s Work on Climate Change guidebook.

 

Various researchers at U of G are studying this food-climate change intersection and are actively working to promote sustainable agriculture for a more food secure future.
 


 

Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle
In 2019, School of Environmental Science professor, Dr. Claudia Wagner-Riddle’s “Climate-smart soils” project was awarded $1.65 million from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. This project aims to optimize and preserve soil health and to further enhance food production. Most of the world’s food is produced on soils, and with the rising population, sustainable farming methods are becoming more critical. The Climate-Smart Soils program encourages widespread knowledge of soil health for students interested in pursuing a career related to environmental conservation and sustainable agriculture. The funding for this project has allowed a consortium of professors at the University of Guelph to offer courses related to soil ecosystems, sustainable agriculture and climate-smart soil practices. 

 

 

Dr. Christine Baes

A University of Guelph Dairy expert Dr. Christine Baes is well known for her research to reduce methane gas production in dairy cattle through a genome selection project. Cows release methane into the atmosphere through burping, and while it’s a natural process, some cows are naturally less gassy. Baes’ research focuses primarily on selectively breeding cattle that normally produce lower methane.

 

 

Muck Crops Research Station

The Muck Crops Research station is located in the Holland Marsh area and is rich in loose organic soil, known as muck, that remains after draining swamp or marshland. The loose nature of the soil allows for greater growth. Various professors at the research station focus their studies on optimizing awareness about sustainable agriculture, with an added focus on crop protection.

 

A landscape of open sky and a tilled field, with agricultural equipment and storage off to the right side

An open field at the Muck Crops Research Station.

(Photo credit: Mya Kidson)

 

 

 

Supporting Information:

1. United Nations. (2019). World Population Prospects 2019: Highlights. https://population.un.org/wpp/Publications/Files/WPP2019_10KeyFindings.pdf

2. United Nations. (n.d.). The 17 Goals. https://sdgs.un.org/goals

3. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. (2018). FAO's Work on Climate Change. http://www.fao.org/3/CA2607EN/ca2607en.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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With the global pandemic continuing to cause uncertainties in our food systems, interest in developing stronger and more sustainable local food systems is on the rise. By reducing transportation and preservation needs, local food systems can be better for the environment and more resilient to supply chain disruptions. They also have the potential to increase our sense of connection to the food we eat and they ways it's produced. Guest blogger Sarina Perchak, Land-Based Education Coordinator from White Owl Native Ancestry Association, helps us understand the importance of this idea from an Indigenous point of view.

 

Indigenous Land-Based Learning:

Nourishing Body and Spirit

By Sarina Perchak

 

     In many Indigenous teachings and related agreements with the Land, individuals are taught to uphold their part to give life to all life. To support all living things on their respective journeys, to take only what one needs, and to give back to others the gifts that one receives from Mother Earth. These are the very principles that we at Wisahkotewinowak [wisahk-toe-win-no-walk] aim to accomplish in every minute of work that we do. We believe the Land provides a place for community and a sense of belonging. We aim to nurture Land-based relationships to strengthen local food sovereignty and urban Indigenous food environments. We strive to do this work in a good way, upholding our responsibility to All Our Relations.

 

     We are an urban Indigenous garden collective working in the Waterloo and Wellington regions. Together we are made up of Indigenous and settler ally gardeners, academics, teachers, students, and life-long learners. We pull our strength from the large network of those involved in our work and the passion that burns within the people responsible for our operation. We remind ourselves of this strength when we recount the meaning behind our name: the first green shoots that come up from Mother Earth after a fire has gone through the Land. Just like the tiny shoots that we are proud to emulate, we push through the colonial soil to assert our presence in an ever tumultuous world. We mirror and honour the resiliency of our relations.

 

A circular urban garden with an x-shaped path cutting through it

     

     In order to do this, we care for and work in harmony with the Land at four garden locations. We work with our Produce Garden at the University of Waterloo Environmental Reserve that was established in 2019; our Three Sisters Garden at Steckle Heritage Farm in Kitchener that was established in 2017; our Teaching Garden at the Blair Outdoor Education Centre in Cambridge that was established in 2019; and our Tea Garden in the University of Guelph’s Arboretum that was established in 2018. It is with the help of these pieces of Land that we are able to share and grow in the work that we do to uphold our responsibility to support all life in each other, the community and the world around us. Reciprocity is at the heart of these continued interactions.

 

     Not only do these spaces allow Indigenous peoples to actively learn and be in relation with food and the Land in a safe environment, but they provide valuable foods and medicines for the community members in the Waterloo Region in association with White Owl Native Ancestry Association. Since August 5th we have taken what the gardens have given us and placed them in boxes to give to Indigenous families that have voiced interest in receiving them. In the 15 weeks since that first distribution day, we have been able to give food to 35 different households. This translates to approximately 275 mouths and over one tonne (2200 pounds) of food. Boxes have included turnips, tomatoes, squash varieties, corn, tobacco, onions, sweetgrass, and kale; just to name a few. Now that harvest season is over and all that remains in our gardens is resilient kale, we have begun to source out local foods to purchase for food distributing. Community partners such as the SEED in Guelph and the Golden Hearth Bakery in Kitchener have made this transition as smooth as possible, enabling us to continue our work to fight for food justice and security for Indigenous peoples into the colder months of the year.

 

An Indigenous community food box filled with various fruits and vegetables from White Owl Native Ancestry

 

     This is only one side of our food work, however. In addition to building an increased sense of food security for those in our region, our work with the Land and food provision is equally about community-building. Especially in times of limited contact, weekly food distribution and socially-distanced volunteer days in the gardens have been a much needed time of interaction and connection for a spiritually deprived people. Thus, we are not only nourishing bodies in our work but nourishing spirits as well. In fact, one is inherent to the other; you cannot be truly full if your soul is lacking sustenance. We recognize this and work to continually acknowledge food and food work as an immensely important part of our relations. Every day we continue to learn and grow in our work, and continue to strive to live life in a good way that supports all other life. We welcome anyone who shares in this passion.

 

To learn about volunteer opportunities, join the Wisahkotewinowak newsletter by sending an email to wisahkotewinowak@gmail.com. 

 

Follow Wisahkotewinowak and White Owl for more information about the educational materials and events they offer:

 

Wisahkotewinowak Instagram

 

White Owl Instagram

 

White Owl Facebook

 

 

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This week we celebrate Ontario's 22nd Agriculture Week! With Thanksgiving just around the corner, this is a great opportunity to take a moment to appreciate our hardworking farmers and get in touch with where our food comes from.

 

A variety of foods produced in Ontario forming a heart for Ontario Agriculture Week

 

How can you participate?

 

  • Learn more about agriculture with AgScape's educational resources for elementary (grades 1-8) and secondary (grades 9-12) students, including some Thanksgiving-themed escape rooms

 

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The LINK Project is an exciting new interdisciplinary program that seeks to apply machine learning techniques to research in agriculture and food. The project aims to support critical issues around human health and a sustainable food supply.

 

 

The call for applications is now open!

 

 

This opportunity welcomes proposals from Canadian graduate students for 4-month projects connecting agriculture and food with artificial intelligence. Graduate students in AI are also invited to apply for Machine Learning Scientist positions, to be paired with the selected projects. Follow the link above for more information on how to apply!

 

Interested, but not quite sure how to frame your question to use AI? Take a look at this quick introduction to AI concepts.

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Listen to a review of the year's hottest topics on the FoodFarm Talk radio program, hosted by Feeding 9 Billion's Abdul-Rahim Abdulai and Emily Duncan.

 

 

Which agri-food issues made headlines in 2019?

 


FoodFarm Talk is an interactive program on food and farming that builds on the diverse research at the University of Guelph and the strong Ontario agri-food community, to inform listeners some of the wonderful work being done from farm to fork. The program celebrates the people, research, and work that shape the food we eat. Broadcast on radio Thursday 10:00 am on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph, ON, Canada, live on www.cfru.ca or podcast on Anchor, Spotify, Apple podcasts and Google Podcasts. Produced by Abdul-Rahim Abdulai, Emily Duncan, Paul Smith and Cameron Ogilvie.

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a picture of the globe with a thermometer showing rising temperatures, a plant, and an impressed scientist

 

Due to climate change and the development of new technologies, scientists predict that we will be able to do agriculture in northern lands that have, until now, been unable to support farming. While the potential to bring down food costs in isolated northern communities and increase global food production could lead to improved food security, disturbing these previously unfarmed northern soils also has its risks. Learn more about the potential benefits and risks of introducing agriculture to the far north, and possible alternatives in the latest addition to our video series.

 

Watch our newest illustrated video to learn more!

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Canada's 2007 Food Guide from Health Canada

(Health Canada)

     

Until recently, Canada's Food Guide focused mainly on the components of a healthy diet, and their proportions. However, although Canada's food sector produces a variety of choices from each of the necessary food groups, and $50 billion of food is wasted annually, some Canadians still go hungry. It's clear that having an understanding of a healthy diet is not capturing the whole picture.

 

Check out this article from Evan Fraser in The Conversation, to learn about how Canada's new food policy incorporates reducing food waste, sustainable food production, and making healthy foods accessible for all.

 

Read the article here!

 

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