Lived experience of food insecurity

Food insecurity in Canada is measured at the level of the household, but it is most profoundly experienced at the level of the individual. In addition to the deleterious effects of consuming a suboptimal diet, feelings of anxiety, depression, and stress are well documented among those living with food insecurity. Research depicts the monotony of eating a constrained diet day after day and highlights experiences of social isolation and alienation that come with going without.

Poverty constrains food selection, acquisition, and consumption. Food insecure individuals cannot afford to buy the food that they want and need, and must compromise family preferences, quality and health when shopping for food. Those living in severely food-insecure households are most likely to make food purchasing decisions solely based on price, foregoing all other considerations. Among individuals belonging to groups that are particularly vulnerable to food insecurity such as low-income single mothers, Aboriginal and Inuit communities and homeless people, food insecurity may be more severe, and efforts to cope may involve more extreme behavior associated with social exclusion. For example, in one study of homeless youth in Toronto, youth who were experiencing the most severe and chronic food deprivation were most likely to engage in theft and trade sex for food.

Individuals within households do not experience food insecurity in the same way. Quite a bit of research on the intra-household distribution of food has focused on the experiences of mothers, and this work suggests that mothers routinely compromise their food intakes to shield their children from the physical, psychological and social effects of hunger. A recent US study demonstrates that children living in food insecure households are cognitively, emotionally and physically aware of the family’s food insecurity. And, although their parents might not be aware of it, children take measures to help manage the situation.

The following articles present research on the lived experience of food insecurity:

Prioritization of the essentials in the spending patterns of Canadian households experiencing food insecurity
Fafard St-Germain AA, Tarasuk V.
Public Health Nutrition 2018; 21(11): 2065-2078.
[Abstract]

Food insecure student clients of a university‐based food bank have compromised health, dietary intake and academic quality
Farahbakhsh J, Hanbazaza M, Ball GD, Farmer AP, Maximova K, Willows ND.
Nutrition & Dietetics 2017; 74: 67-73.
[Abstract]

How do Student Clients of a University-based Food Bank Cope with Food Insecurity?
Farahbakhsh J, Ball GD, Farmer AP, Maximova K, Hanbazaza M, Willows ND.
Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2015; 76(4): 200-203.
[Abstract]

Filling a Need: Sociodemographic and Educational Characteristics Among Student Clients of a University-Based Campus Food Bank
Hanbazaza M, Ball GD, Farmer A, Maximova K, Willows ND.
Journal of Hunger & Environmental Nutrition 2016, 11(4): 569-577.
[Abstract]

Rural food insecurity: When cooking skills, homegrown food, and perseverance aren’t enough to feed a family
Buck-McFadyen EV.
Canadian Journal of Public Health 2015; 106(3): e140-146.
[Abstract]

Coping with child hunger in Canada: Have household strategies changed over a decade?
McIntyre L, Bartoo AC, Pow J, Potestio ML.
Canadian Journal of Public Health 2012; 103(6): 428-32.
[Abstract]

Household food insecurity and Canadian Aboriginal women’s self-efficacy in food preparation
Mercille G, Receveur O, Potvin L.
Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2012; 73(3): 134-40.
[Abstract]

Affordability of a nutritious diet for income assistance recipients in Nova Scotia (2002-2010)
Williams P, Watt CG, Amero M, Anderson BJ, Blum I, Green-LaPierre R, Johnson CP, Reimer DE.
Canadian Journal of Public Health 2012; 103(3): 183.
[Abstract]

An Investigation of adults’ everyday experiences and effects of food insecurity in an urban area in Canada
Runnels VE, Kristjansson E, Calhoun M.
Canadian Journal of Community Mental Health 2011; 30(1): 157-72.
[Abstract]

Children are aware of food insecurity and take responsibility for managing food resources
Fram MS, Frongillo EA, Jones SJ, Williams RC, Burke MP, DeLoach KP, Blake CE.
Journal of Nutrition 2011; 141(6): 1114-1119.
[Free Full Text]

Feeding the family during times of stress: Experience and determinants of food insecurity in an Inuit community
Ford JD, Beaumier M.
The Geographical Journal 2011; 177(1): 44-61.
[Abstract]

Food management behaviours in food-insecure, lone mother-led families
Sim SM, Glanville NT, McIntyre L.
Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2011; 72(3): 123-129.
[Abstract]

Complexity of food preparation and food security status in low-income young women
Engler-Stringer R, Stringer B, Haines T.
Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2011; 7(3): 133-136.
[Abstract]

Needs for food security from the standpoint of Canadian households participating and not participating in community food programmes
Hamelin AM, Mercier C, Bedard A.
International Journal of Consumer Studies 2011; 35(1): 58-68.
[Abstract]

Food purchasing and food insecurity among low-income families in Toronto
Dachner N, Ricciuto L, Kirkpatrick S, Tarasuk V.
Canadian Journal of Dietetic Practice and Research 2010; 71(3): e50-e56.
[Abstract]

Food deprivation is integral to the ‘hand to mouth’ existence of homeless youth in Toronto.
Tarasuk V, Dachner N, Poland B, Gaetz S.
Public Health Nutrition 2009; 12(9): 1437-1442.
[Abstract] [Free Full Text]

Exploring food security with collective kitchens participants in three Canadian cities.

Engler-Stringer R, Berenbaum S.
Qualitative Health Research 2007; 17(1): 75-84.
[Abstract]

Adequacy of food spending is related to housing expenditures among lower-income Canadian households
Kirkpatrick S, Tarasuk S.
Public Health Nutrition 2007; 10(12): 1464-1473.
[Free Full Text]

Economic abuse and intra-household inequities in food security
Power EM.
Canadian Journal of Public Health 2006; 97(3): 258-260.
[Free Full Text]

Do low-income lone mothers compromise their nutrition to feed their children?
McIntyre L, Glanville NT, Raine KD, Dayle JB, Anderson B, Battaglia N.
Canadian Medical Association Journal 2003; 168 (6): 686-691.
[Free Full Text]

An examination of at-home food preparation activity among low-income, food-insecure women
McLaughlin C, Tarasuk V, Krieger N.
Journal of the American Dietetic Association 2003; 103(11): 1506-1512.
[Abstract]

Homeless “squeegee kids”: food insecurity and daily survival
Dachner N, Tarasuk V.
Social Science & Medicine 2002; 54(7): 1039-1049.
[Abstract]

Characterization of household food insecurity in Quebec: Food and feelings
Hamelin AM, Beaudry M, Habicht JP.
Social Science & Medicine 2002; 54(1): 119-132.
[Abstract]

Household food insecurity with hunger is associated with women’s food intakes, health, and household circumstances
Tarasuk V.
Journal of Nutrition 2001; 131: 2670-2676.
[Free Full Text]

Food insecurity: Consequences for the household and broader social implications.
Hamelin AM, Habicht JP, Beaudry M.
Journal of Nutrition 1999; 129: 525S-528S.
[Free Full Text]