Our Editorial: Canadians face more food insecurity than in nearly two decades. It is time to act.
For a century or more, Canadians have used a series of food-based cliches to describe their country, to each other, and to the world. Basket of bread. Cornucopia. Land of plenty.
As smug as they may sound, these terms are rooted in fact. The country is blessed with 40 million hectares of farmland, the energy resources to farm it, and a fifth of the planet’s fresh water to grow things. More importantly, in an increasingly global food economy, we are rich. An Edmontonian wanting a $ 5 lettuce in February will barely have the car warm before they hit the store where it’s available. Wagyu beef? End of hall, turn right.
But the shame of privilege at the macro level is reflected in a disturbing problem within our communities. Over the past decade or more, food insecurity, that is, inadequate access to sufficient amounts of nutritious food, has been on the rise. A 2020 study found that one in eight Canadian households had trouble putting food on the table, a number that likely increased during the pandemic. One in six children lives in food insecure households. These are the worst numbers since Statistics Canada began tracking the phenomenon 17 years ago.
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The evidence is visible to those who care to look. Every day in Iqaluit, where winter food prices can triple or quadruple those seen in southern Canadian cities, a line forms around the block at the community food bank (see our entry for a grocery bill from Nunavut). Indigenous and black people are more likely to face food insecurity than white people. And forget the toxic stereotypes of welfare moms spending money on cigarettes – today’s typical food bank customer is a working-age adult with a job.
With these facts in mind, Maclean’s has embarked on a unique initiative, assigning Vancouver-based writer Nathan Sing to research and write about hunger and food security in Canada for a year. His position is being funded by the nonprofit Maple Leaf Center for Action on Food Security, in association with Community Food Centers Canada. Editorial oversight remains Maclean’s.
This groundbreaking partnership, a first for us, will allow Sing to explore this pressing issue in depth, while seeking answers from those who are positioned to make a difference. Before the call for federal elections, he sought clear platform statements on hunger and food security from the four main parties; Their responses to date can be found in our platform guide at macleans.ca. They and their provincial counterparts can look forward to hearing from Sing again.
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We believe that this project goes to the heart of our collective identity. In Canada, as in other Western democracies, fundamental human needs such as food, water and shelter do not appear in the set of rights guaranteed to citizens. We are expected to obtain them ourselves.
But that makes hunger a direct function of income, wealth, and geography. And, worryingly, it pitches one need against another. If you are having trouble paying your rent, buy cheaper and less nutritious food. For a while, you may not buy any food.
That’s an unseemly circumstance for a society that calls itself just, and we’re beyond the point of solving it with Christmas charity drives or smart plans to limit food waste.
In every way this it is a land of plenty. The time has come for meaningful action and lasting solutions. This electoral campaign, Maclean’s will pressure our political leaders to do both.