Hunger in Canada is not about the lack of food. People are food insecure because they can’t afford to eat. Poverty is a multi-dimensional problem. We know that the systemic causes of poverty cannot be addressed overnight. But, we need to put in place a Government-wide integrated approach to addressing the systemic issues of poverty based on the principles of social inclusion and collaboration. And that we need to start with income.
Meet CCEC Member, the Vancouver Neighbourhood Food Networks and its’ member sponsors, Ian Marcuse and Joanne MacKinnon. Ian says, “As the price of food escalates, increasing numbers of households are feeling the food affordability squeeze. We are seeing more people coming to our programs that include community kitchens, community meals and food hampers (bulk buying and free baskets). We are feeling under pressure as we need to expand our existing food programs and establish new food programs to serve those in need. Ideally, rather than expanding existing food security programming, we would prefer to tackle the systems that result in food insecurity and end poverty."
So, who is going hungry? We have a growing population of working poor in Canada whose wages do not cover basic necessities. 2/3 of food insecure people are working. We know that inadequate wages, shrinking social assistance rates, meager pensions, illness and disability are at the heart of food insecurity. More than 4 million people in Canada are unsure about where they’ll eat next or skip meals so their kids can eat. 1 in 8 people are food insecure but only 25% access the food bank.
The Neighbourhood Food Networks, with 12 part-time funded coordinators, are part of the Greenest City Action Plan to address food security and to increase all residents’ access to healthy, culturally appropriate food. Joanne MacKinnon says, “We believe in the right-to-food, and social justice are at the forefront of our philosophy and how we approach our work.” She continues, “We work with our program participants but are engaged and contribute their diverse skills and talents toward co-creating a just and sustainable neighbourhood food system.”
Part of the solution is for BC, who is the only province in Canada without a Poverty Reduction Strategy and Canada, who lacks a comprehensive policy to step up and put in place the strategies and policies around food justice. According to CCEC Member, Raise the Rates, Canada has a Poverty Policy. This needs to change.
But, Do Poverty Reduction Strategies work? Let’s look at Newfoundland and Labrador's Poverty Reduction Strategy which is a government-wide (13 Ministries) approach to promoting self-reliance, opportunity, and access to key supports for persons vulnerable to poverty. The strategy, introduced in 2006, includes more than 90 initiatives that were created based on an intensive public consultation process. Their cross Ministerial approach developed strategies to address the linkages between poor health and low income, between low income employment and limited economic development, between poverty and violence and impacts on women’s equality, and the need to support persons with disabilities. How do they know it is working? Just one indicator shows that it is working: food insecurity has been reduced by 50%.
The bottom line is that we should be supporting employees fighting for fair, livable wages. It’s time that politicians, backed by citizen voices, talk about justice and equity. It’s time to create real, long lasting solutions to poverty and hunger, policies that bring us together, rather than divide us as citizens.
In BC, we have 17 government ministries that work with vulnerable populations and, often-times, they seem to be working at cross purposes. We know that the systemic causes of poverty cannot be addressed overnight. But, we know we need to get started. Next year, 2017, is a BC Provincial Government election. Make your vote count.
The Neigbhourhood Food Network and its’ coordinators at the local level are unique and separate in that we respond to community needs with grassroots solutions. But, together, we represent the experiences of thousands of individuals across the city, giving us an important role to play in advocacy and systems change.
Learn more about the Neighbourhood Food Networks and support our work.
And, sign on to end poverty in Canada: http://www.dignityforall.ca/