Rising Food Prices Prompt Tough Choices for Those on a Tight Budget, September 6, 2022

If you’ve been to your local grocery store lately you likely left feeling sticker shock after paying the bill. Even with the arrival of some of Ontario’s bountiful, beautiful, local produce, it’s obvious to anyone who handles meal planning and shopping that prices are headed in one direction: sky high.

Now think of what it’s like for someone already on a tight budget, counting down to the last cent in hopes of being able to buy enough food to cover off the month. What happens to these people as inflation creeps upward, with prices also rising due to lingering supply chain issues? Further complicating things for some will be a cut in wages due to reduced hours or pandemic-related layoffs. That’s hard enough to begin with, but what happens if you have children to feed as well?

Then add in all the other basic –and necessary– expenses like the soaring rents in the Greater Toronto Area and the cost of getting to work, and it’s a recipe for increased hunger and poorer nutrition.

For people experiencing what is known as food insecurity –defined by Health Canada as the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so—these are frightening times.

Statistics from the organization Ontario Dieticians in Public Health suggest that 13% of people in Ontario live with food insecurity, a figure that touches 1 in 6 children. And as many as 20% of Canadians are reporting skipping meals because of rising costs.

For many low-income Canadians, many of them elderly or disabled, the challenge of rising costs further aggravates the existing challenge of living in a food desert, with few grocery stores within walking distance. The City of Toronto, for example, says fully 31,000 households in low-income areas of the city are situated more than a kilometre’s walking distance to the nearest grocery store.

All this means less choice. Bananas and broccoli may be on sale at Fred’s Grocery Store, but Fred’s is three kilometres away and you can’t afford a transit ticket. That leaves you no choice but to go to Stan’s Convenience Store, where choices are limited and prices are higher – for the convenience.

Fewer choices, whether due to access to groceries or because of price limiting a shopper’s options, can have a negative impact on health, happiness and productivity.

For thousands of Canadians, food banks are a part of life, with more than 840,000 Canadians receiving help from a food bank every month. Statistics from FoodBanksCanada reveal that almost two in five users are children and youth, and 1 in 10 arriving at food banks each month are first-time users.

There are numerous reasons for food bank use, ranging from job loss to income failing to cover essential expenses. But as important a role as food banks play, we can never forget that they are not a permanent solution but, instead, a band-aid fix. Food banks rely heavily on donations, which can vary and are subject to fluctuations. Equally important is that food banks were never introduced as a solution, and as a society we cannot rely on them rather than find permanent answers to solve the question of food insecurity.

 As with so many societal issues, there are no quick fixes. Donating to – or volunteering with –food banks and other charities can help ease the immediate challenge. But we are called to educate ourselves on the challenges our neighbours face – and we are also called, as members of the human family, to respond by offering not only help bub solutions.

There are many places to learn more about proposals to address food insecurity.  Food Banks Canada, for example, has some excellent resources to learn more about ways we can ease this shocking problem.

By understanding the issues and possible responses, you can ask candidates running for office what their positions are on q food insecurity, making them aware that you are concerned. You can make your voice heard in community consultations on issues like zoning, brainstorming with suggestions like requiring developers proposing new projects to subsidize grocery stores to ensure everyone has reasonable access. Creative thinking can go a long way to responding to this crisis.

A society where everyone knows where their next meal comes from promises to be a more secure, productive, and just society – and isn’t that what everyone wants?

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