Healthy Living in the North

Food Security, Part 3: A call to action

All British Columbians have the right to access a healthy diet in ways that are right for them. In two previous blog posts, I highlighted  household food insecurity and the Food Costing in BC report. With the knowledge that 17% of households in Northern BC are food insecure, what are our next steps?

It is important to mention that decreasing household food insecurity isn’t about decreasing the cost of food. This is because we also must ensure that our food system is healthy and sustainable. Part of a just food system is making sure growers and producers are paid a fair wage – which is reflected in the cost of food.

Community food security

There is a lot of wonderful food systems work happening in Northern communities that focuses on food growing, preparation, and eating. This focus on improving the food system works to increase community food security, which is the ability to access a healthy, safe, and culturally appropriate diet, while maintaining a sustainable, healthy, and just food system. Community food security programs can:

Household Food Insecurity: An income-based issue

However, while community food programs offer a lot of value, household food insecurity is an income-based issue that needs income-based solutions. The root cause of household food insecurity isn’t the price of food or distance to grocery stores. It’s also not lack of food skills or education; it’s that some households do not have enough income to purchase food. Community food programs do not address income deficits directly. According to local community advocate Stacey Tyers,

Food programs that focus on local and sustainable agriculture, (e.g. community gardens) are very important for the health and wellbeing of a community. However, without also addressing income, many community members still cannot afford to put food on the table.”

Changing the situation for those who struggle to meet their basic needs must begin with a focus on income. Exploring income based solutions is the most effective way to decrease household food insecurity:

Ultimately, no person should have to worry about getting enough food. BC would benefit from income based solutions that raise the income of fixed wage and low income earners, so that all British Columbians can have their basic needs met. Without addressing income, household food insecurity will remain a concern in our communities,” says Stacey.

Income based policy has been shown to work:

  • The risk of household food insecurity drops by 50% once low income adults reach the age of 65 and become eligible for seniors’ pension programs (a form of guaranteed income)
  • Newfoundland and Labrador invested in poverty reduction work, which saw a reduction in household food insecurity among social assistance recipients

Access to food is a human right – all Northerners should have their basic needs met. The health impacts of food insecurity go far beyond individual and household food patterns, or food and lifestyle “choices”. Household food insecurity is closely linked to income, and factors such as low income and unpredictable employment more deeply impact health than food choice itself.

Individuals, communities, and governments all have a role to play in making BC more food secure.

Wondering how you can get involved?

Check out the first two blogs of this series:

Laurel Burton

About Laurel Burton

Laurel works with Northern Health as a population health dietitian, with a focus on food security. She is a big proponent of taking a multi-dimensional approach to health and she is interested in the social determinants of health and how they affect overall well-being, both at the individual and population level. Laurel is a recent graduate of the UBC dietetics program, where she completed her internship with Northern Health. She has experience working with groups across the lifecycle within BC and internationally to support evidence-informed nutrition practice for the aim of optimizing health. When she is not working, Laurel enjoys cooking, hiking and travelling. She is looking forward to exploring more of the North!

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