Launched in 2019 as part of Canada’s Food Policy, this program funds infrastructure and equipment for local food charity programs and is the only federal program naming food insecurity reduction as part of its goal. However, this approach to addressing food insecurity is deeply misguided.
In a recent House of Commons Question Period, Bibeau’s parliamentary secretary, Francis Drouin, described the funding as an investment for food banks, “to help families put food on the table.”
Millions of Canadians are food insecure
These remarks suggest that the federal government sees volunteer-driven, community-based food charity programs as the solution for Canadians who are unable to afford food for themselves and their families.
Yet Canada’s massive and ever-expanding network of charitable food assistance programs can’t even keep the problem in check, let alone reduce or prevent it. Food charity operations are burgeoning, but more Canadians are affected by food insecurity than ever before.
The 2022 statistics show that 6.9 million people in the 10 provinces, including almost 1.8 million children, lived in households struggling to afford the food they need. That’s more than four times more than the number of visits food banks receive.
Seeking food charity is a strategy of desperation for food-insecure Canadians, mostly by those who are severely food insecure. But there’s no evidence to indicate that food charity prevents severe food insecurity or resolves it.
But the vision being implemented through the Local Food Infrastructure Fund now is a two-tiered food system — affluent Canadians purchase premium products at supermarkets, farmers’ markets and designer food outlets, while millions of others line up to receive rations from volunteers working feverishly to distribute the food rejected from that retail system.
The direction of our national Food Policy is a sharp departure from the understanding of food insecurity reflected in Opportunity for All, a document produced by the federal government under its poverty reduction strategy.
Food insecurity is identified as a key indicator of poverty, now tracked to measure our progress in poverty reduction. Unfortunately, food insecurity reduction has never been adopted as an explicit objective of policies led by Employment and Social Development Canada, and so the problem has festered.
Income-based policy interventions needed
Federal income supports are critical policy levers to reduce food insecurity in Canada, but this objective needs to be incorporated into how those income supports are designed.
The recently announced federal Grocery Rebate, while too small and short-lived to impact the alarming rates of food insecurity in Canada now, is a step in the right direction.
By giving much needed-cash directly to low-income Canadians, the rebate reflects the principles of dignity and inclusion so clearly articulated in the Poverty Reduction Strategy. By comparison, the latest call for funding applications for the Local Food Infrastructure Fund is a big step backward.
Although the policy levers needed to address food insecurity lie outside of the Agriculture and Agri-Food Ministry, the Food Policy was an opportunity to establish interdepartmental collaboration with Employment and Social Development Canada to chart an action plan aimed at reducing food insecurity in Canada and to begin making progress towards this goal.
Unfortunately, none of this came to fruition.
The Food Policy is slated for renewal later this year, which could be a chance for a course correction. The starting point must be a shift towards working in partnership with Employment and Social Development Canada to design, implement and evaluate income supports that reduce food insecurity.