The number of Canadians who worry about where their next meal is coming from has reached “epidemic” proportions in some regions of the country, according to a new report from a University of Toronto research group.
And the group’s principal investigator thinks that many Canadian employers, including grocers, can help alleviate the problem by paying part-time workers better.
“Many people in every area of the country are struggling to put food on the table for themselves and their families,” said Valerie Tarasuk, a professor of nutritional sciences at UofT.
Tarasuk also heads PROOF, a federally-funded, interdisciplinary research team that uses data from Statistics Canada and other social measurements to monitor food insecurity and to help guide public policy.
Defined as inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial restraints (or hunger from poverty in plain speak) food insecurity is considered a serious public health issue in Canada.
In its fourth annual report released this week (proof.utoronto.ca), PROOF suggests food insecurity is a daily reality in the lives of some 4 million Canadians (including 1.5 million – or one in six – children under 18), and some 12 percent of all households.
Like most things in a country as big and diverse as Canada, however, the problem hits some regions and social groups much harder than others.
In Nunavut, for example, 47% of households face food insecurity according to PROOF’s report, as do 60% of children under 18.
“The situation in Nunavut is particularly appalling, a scandal really,” Tarasuk told Canadian Grocer in a phone interview. “It’s an extreme case that should be acted on immediately.”
She also singled out the Maritimes as a place where the rate of food insecurity is both high and chronic.
“But it’s a problem in every region, every city across Canada,” said Tarasuk. “Nowhere is it below 10%.”
Other findings suggest households with children are at greater risk of food insecurity, as are one-third of single-parent families headed by women.
According to Tarasuk, the majority of Canadians who are food insecure—a whopping 62%—are working people.
“They are mostly in low-wage jobs and part-time work,” she said. “It’s hard for them to make ends meet.”
Income, added Tarasuk, appears to be closed linked with food insecurity.
She pointed to the fact that seniors are among the groups that are the least affected by food insecurity in Canada.
“An amazing thing happens the day people turn 65,” she said. “They don’t acquire cooking skills. But they do start to receive a pension.”