Food Insecurity in Canada: It’s Increasing. The Proposed Solutions are Not Working. So What Works?

While it may seem counterintuitive, the increase in food charitable programs aimed at addressing hunger of children does not necessarily guarantee a decrease in food insecurity overall. Canadian families have seen a 2% increase in food insecurity to 18% from 2021-2022 and a large jump to 22.9% in 2023 according to PROOF – Food Insecurity Policy Research. This research shows us that there has been no meaningful progress in reducing household food insecurity despite these efforts of the food charity donated by the foodbank. Government funding of food charity is ill-founded and further entrenches an ineffective response for reducing household food insecurity (PROOF, 2024).

Our understanding shows that several factors contribute the complexity of food insecurity. It is a multifaceted issue influenced by a combination of factors, including unemployment, inadequate social safety nets, high healthcare costs, housing instability, and food deserts. Addressing food insecurity requires addressing these underlying causes comprehensively and each stakeholder taking responsibility in their role for a sustainable and equitable food system…yes, I’m talking to you Loblaws. As is it easy to point the finger at corporations, the producers, the government, the individual, the schools, etc. we can be assured that everyone has a responsibility in assuring a food secure Canada.

Food insecurity is often rooted in poverty. Economic downturns, job losses, stagnant wages, and rising living costs can exacerbate financial strain on families, making it challenging to afford an adequate and nutritious diet, even with the assistance of food programs. It is clear that Canadians simply do not have the income to have shelter and food. Wait! Isn’t this the base of Maslov’s Hierarchy of Needs?

A study by Lyonnais et al examined the shopping patterns, use of food-related resources and proposed solutions to improve healthy food access among food insecure and food secure Eastern North Carolina residents where food insecurity rates hover around 20.8%. They have found that food insecure populations are more likely to shop at convenience stores or dollar stores for food rather than to purchase local or large retail. This makes sense as there may be limited transportation. In addition, food insecure population were less likely to grow their own food, and this may be due to insufficient land for growing (Lyonnais et. Al, 2020). Clearly, income plays a big role in food security AND nutritious choices.

Despite the existence of food assistance programs, not all eligible individuals and families may be able to access or utilize these resources due to various barriers, including lack of awareness, transportation challenges, stigma, language barriers, and bureaucratic hurdles. When I was young, we lived about 20 minutes outside the city with my mom and my three siblings. We were food insecure living in poverty, but the foodbank was a 40 minute drive into the city and it was not easy to bring four children anywhere, especially in a vehicle with no heat in the middle of an northern Alberta winter – so I can relate to this. Some food assistance programs may not provide adequate support to meet the diverse needs of individuals and families experiencing food insecurity. For example, programs that offer limited food options, insufficient quantities, or infrequent distributions may not fully address the nutritional needs of beneficiaries.

Lyonnais also discovered that there was equal use to community nutrition resources like that which FoodImpact provides, such as cooking classes and food literacy classes. These resources likely improve diet and social connectedness alongside other positive social outcomes. Evaluations of cooking classes have determined that such classes can improve self-efficacy for cooking healthier foods, as well as intake of healthier foods, but did not effectively impact food insecurity as hoped (Lyonnais et. Al, 2020).

In summary, while food assistance programs play a crucial role in alleviating hunger and supporting food security, their effectiveness is influenced by a myriad of interconnected factors. To effectively address food insecurity, it is essential to adopt a multifaceted approach that addresses the root causes of poverty, inequality, and food insecurity while ensuring that food assistance programs are accessible, equitable, and adequately resourced.

So, what does the solution look like? A comprehensive approach!

  • Income support and poverty reduction
  • Access to affordable and nutritious food
  • Enhanced social safety nets
  • Supporting holistic approaches to food provisioning (Food Secure Canada, 2024)
  • Nutrition education and food literacy
  • Support for vulnerable populations
  • Community-based initiatives
  • Policy coordination and collaboration of community

By adopting a comprehensive approach that addresses the social, economic, and structural determinants of food insecurity, Canada can work towards creating a more equitable and sustainable food system where everyone has access to the nutritious food they need to thrive.

Lyonnais MJ, Rafferty AP, Jilcott Pitts S, Blanchard RJ, Kaur AP. Examining Shopping Patterns, Use of Food-Related Resources, and Proposed Solutions to Improve Healthy Food Access Among Food Insecure and Food Secure Eastern North Carolina Residents. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020 May 12;17(10):3361. doi: 10.3390/ijerph17103361. PMID: 32408632; PMCID: PMC7277759.

Platero, S. (2024, May 7). Budget 2024: A missed opportunity to address food affordability. Food Secure Canada.

What can be done to reduce food insecurity in Canada?. PROOF. (2022a, November 15).