For low-income families in Canada, putting healthy, nutritional food on the dinner table isn't always an option.
In fact, according to a new study by Statistics Canada, it's a struggle more than a million Canadians face on a daily basis.
The report on food insecurity, released last week, counted how many Canadians are unable to get the healthy food they need because they can't afford it.
In B.C, where the poverty rate has remained mostly unchanged over the past 30 years, nearly one in 10 families can't afford healthy meals. The situation is even worse for single-parent families: Nearly a quarter of one-parent households in B.C. are without regular healthy meals. That number is as high as 29 per cent in Alberta, and 33 per cent in Saskatchewan.
The worst-case scenario can be found in Nunavut, where basic food prices have reached astronomical levels. A whopping 36.7 per cent of residents, and almost half — 48.7 per cent — of families cannot afford a nutritional diet on their normal income.
The problem isn't relegated to isolated communities, either. While 8.3 per cent of Canadian households experience food insecurity, the rates are often higher in urban centres. Nearly one in 10 Torontonians over the age of 12 don't get enough healthy food. That number has reached 11.8 per cent in Halifax, 10.7 per cent in Montreal, and 8.8 per cent in Edmonton.
Notably, in Vancouver, where health food stores and organic grocers are the norm, not the exception, 6.7 per cent of residents experience food insecurity.
The potential consequences of malnutrition are devastating. The largest and most obvious strain is on the country's health care system, with poor diets linked to a litany of chronic illnesses, such as diabetes, obesity and the No. 1 killer of Canadians — heart disease.
The issue for many low-income families a is how much easier fast food fits into a daily lifestyle. When parents work several jobs to pay the rent and cover the bills, there's not a lot of time at the end of the day to shop for and make a wholesome, nutrient-rich meal from scratch. Picking up a burger and fries at the neighbourhood McDonald's not only saves on precious time, but it seemingly offers more bang for your buck, filling you up with fat-laden combos for under $10.
So what's the answer? While food bank use has risen by a staggering amount across Canada in recent years (including a 25-per-cent jump in B.C. between 2008 and 2014, according to a Food Banks Canada report), these non-profits are intended as a quick fix for those in a jam, not a long-term solution. A recent discussion paper by Ontario activist group, Put Food in the Budget, found that food banks provide users with only nine per cent of their food needs on average, approximately $295 worth of food a year, well below what's required to meet basic dietary needs.
The sad truth is many low-income individuals are more likely to reside in what's known as "food deserts," a localized area without proper access to grocery stores selling affordable, nutritional fare. That's why many have posited community gardens as a relatively easy and cost-effective solution. Vancouver has recognized the value of community gardens, with 75 located in city parks, schoolyards and on private property — including one at City Hall. Officials have even enshrined the goal of improving access to "healthy, affordable, culturally diverse food" for all residents in its official 2013 Food Strategy.
Whatever the answer is — and there is certainly no "one size fits all" approach to such a multifaceted issue — it's clear that there's a lack of awareness of the severity of the problem. For the most part, Canada is a progressive, socially conscious nation with one of the healthiest economies in the world. So why has something as basic as providing a balanced, healthy diet to its most vulnerable citizens seemingly fallen by the wayside?
To view the full report, visit www.tinyurl.com/StatsCanFood.