It’s no secret that food prices are increasing. Discount food stores are seeing increased sales and Canadian inflation rates are higher than they have been in nearly 40 years.1 For some Londoners, this may mean tightening budgets, and on others, more severe consequences.
On October 24th, 2022, Londoners will head to the polls and vote for Mayor, City Council and School Board Trustees. It is very important that we elect city officials who support policies that make food accessible to all Londoners. But how do you know where candidates stand on food issues? In this post, we are going to help you prepare to vote for London’s food system by defining food insecurity and questions to ask your candidates.
What is food insecurity?
The official definition of food insecurity in Canada is, “…the inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet quality or sufficient quantity of food in socially acceptable ways, or the uncertainty that one will be able to do so”.2 Let’s clarify exactly what the definition of food insecurity means:
- “Inability to acquire or consume an adequate diet in quality or sufficient quantity of food”. This means folks in our community do not have enough food that is healthy and safe to eat. The biggest reason for this is inadequate income. Households do not have enough money to pay for all of their basic needs which include housing, transportation, and food. A updated report shows that 51.9% of food insecure households have paid employment, but do not make enough money to afford all of their basic needs.3
- “…in socially acceptable ways”. This refers to the social and cultural context in which we eat our food. Food has emotional and social meaning – choosing foods we like and eating with others can help us bond with our loved ones and connect to our heritage. When a person is food insecure, they often lose autonomy and can experience social and psychological stress in addition to going without food. For example, people who rely on food banks often have fewer choices when picking out their food. This lack of freedom is frustrating, and can poorly impact mental health. In addition, food bank users may experience shame for using food banks as a result of unfair, negative attitudes society may have towards them.
- “…or the uncertainty that one will be able to so.” This part of the definition is very important. The stress and anxiety of not knowing if you will be able to get food can be just as difficult to cope with as the lack of food. Again, the biggest reason people lack access to food is money. Many Londoners cannot afford to buy food after paying for other basic needs. Even when people use emergency food services like the London Food Bank, they are limited to getting food once every 30 days because of the high demand in our community.4
How food secure is London?
When determining a region’s food security level, food affordability is often used to estimate how much money is needed for a household to purchase food. This measure considers how many people live in a household and if they can eat a variety of foods recommended by Canada’s Food Guide. The latest local data from 2019 shows that roughly 1 in 7 households in the Middlesex-London region were food insecure.5 This means their income was insufficient to cover all of their basic living expenses, including purchasing enough food. At a provincial level, PROOF recent 2021 report shows food insecurity in Ontario has risen to 16.1% of households.3 In the past, London’s food insecurity rates have been in-line with those of Ontario. Assuming London continues to follow provincial trends, the potential for an increasing number of food insecure households is troubling, especially in light of rapid increases in food prices and the much slower increase in income.
How can we improve food security in London?
It is important to note that food security must be addressed at different levels of government as each level has different responsibilities.Since food security is tied to income, increasing food security is often the provincial government’s responsibility as they deal with social assistance and set minimum wages. However, our local government also has a role in creating a food secure London. Our municipal government plays a crucial role in enacting by-laws, land use policies, and strategic planning. For example, London city council can support affordable housing projects and help small businesses which ensures Londoners can access stable employment and housing. This leads to more money for people’s food budgets.
In Middlesex-London, we also have a thriving agri-food industry which is an important contributor to the local economy. The region’s large volume and variety of agricultural and farming operations make London an ideal home for these businesses. Currently, food processing and production companies in London employ more than 7000 people in addition to those employed at local farms.6 It is important that city council support and protect these sectors of the food system in our region. Londoners benefit from both the local food supply, and the positive impact on our local economy at a community and household level.
Questions to Ask Your Candidates
Ensuring everyone in our community has the ability to purchase healthy food should be a top priority this election, but it may be difficult to know if your candidate is willing to tackle food security issues. Here are some questions you can ask to gauge your candidates’ commitment to address food insecurity in London.
- How will you follow through on supporting the affordable housing and public transportation 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals?
- What types of grants or initiatives do you intend to apply for to support the further development of our agri-food industry?
- How do you plan to attract agri-food businesses and processing facilities to set-up in London which in turn will provide more local employment opportunities?
- Will you continue to promote and invest in urban agriculture initiatives as part of the 2019-2023 City of London strategic goals?
Curious to learn more?
If you want to learn more about local food insecurity check out these great resources:
- Household food insecurity in Canada: Overview
- Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2021 – PROOF
- Food Insecurity — Middlesex-London Health Unit
- Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA. (2022) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2021. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/
Written by Christine Basille
Edited by Julissa Litterick