FOOD IN­SE­CU­RITY TAKES TOLL HEAV­IER THAN HUNGER

WELL-MEAN­ING HANDS OF CHAR­ITY `DON'T CUT IT'

National Post (National Edition) - - WORLD - LAURA BREHAUT

THEN GOD FOR­BID MY SON HAS A GROWTH SPURT AND DRINKS THE WHOLE BAG AT ONE TIME, WHICH HE'S BEEN KNOWN TO DO. THAT IS STRESS­FUL FOR ME AND I HAVE TO PUT ON A GOOD FACE FOR THEM. I DON'T WANT THEM TO KNOW I'M WOR­RY­ING ABOUT THAT. S — NI­COLA MOORE

IT IN­FECTS MY LIFE. I WANT TO SAY AF­FECTS, BUT IT'S BOTH. IT AF­FECTS MY LIFE ON A DAILY BA­SIS.

Ni­cola Moore re­cently re­leased her first song, The Ar­row. A singer-song­writer, peer ad­vo­cate at the Hamil­ton Com­mu­nity Food Cen­tre, and sin­gle mother of three chil­dren un­der nine, she's made the most of any pan­demic-in­duced “lulls” in her life by writ­ing music.

“I could sit here and get On­tario Works pay­ments or I could do some­thing about it and change my life, which is what I'm try­ing to do right now,” says Moore. “Ad­vo­cacy and singing are my way out.”

A first-time gar­dener on a com­mu­nity plot, Moore is ec­static when de­scrib­ing her har­vest: cu­cum­bers, green beans, let­tuce, squash, toma­toes, a va­ri­ety of herbs and an abun­dance of kale. She's also in the midst of a project at work, il­lus­trat­ing how to spin a can of chickpeas a mul­ti­tude of ways so oth­ers — like her­self — can trans­form the canned items they get on monthly trips to the food bank.

“Be­cause I am them,” says Moore. “They are me.”

Prior to the pan­demic, ac­cord­ing to a re­port re­leased by the non-profit Com­mu­nity Food Cen­tres Canada (CFCC), an es­ti­mated 4.5 mil­lion Cana­di­ans ex­pe­ri­enced food in­se­cu­rity. Dur­ing COVID-19, that num­ber has in­creased by 39 per cent; dis­pro­por­tion­ately af­fect­ing Black, Indige­nous and north­ern com­mu­ni­ties. As a re­sult of the strains of the pan­demic, one in seven peo­ple — in­clud­ing Moore — is food in­se­cure; un­able to af­ford enough food, or wor­ried about run­ning out with­out the means to buy more.

On Oct. 16, World Food Day “is call­ing for global sol­i­dar­ity to help all pop­u­la­tions, and es­pe­cially the most vul­ner­a­ble, to re­cover from the cri­sis, and to make food sys­tems more re­silient and ro­bust so they can with­stand in­creas­ing volatil­ity and cli­mate shocks, de­liver af­ford­able and sus­tain­able healthy di­ets for all, and de­cent liveli­hoods for food sys­tem work­ers.”

In Canada, as the find­ings of the CFCC re­port re­veal, this is­sue re­mains per­ti­nent as ever.

“It in­fects my life. I want to say af­fects, but it's both. It af­fects my life on a daily ba­sis,” says Moore. Be­cause of her ad­vo­cacy work, she was com­pelled to open up about her ex­pe­ri­ences in Be­yond Hunger: The Hid­den Im­pacts of Food In­se­cu­rity in Canada, for which the CFCC sur­veyed 561 peo­ple liv­ing on low in­comes across the coun­try.

“I felt like my story should be shared be­cause I'm not the only one go­ing through this. But I find that lower-in­come peo­ple tend not to share what's hap­pen­ing with them be­cause of pride. Be­cause of em­bar­rass­ment. It's not cool to say you're poor. It's not cool to sit with a bunch of peo­ple at lunch and you're like, wow, I wish I could buy that but I can't. `I'll have the soup.'”

To meet her fam­ily's needs each week, Moore plans care­fully with her sights set on stick­ing to “a very tight bud­get” of be­tween $120 and $140. With a baby just shy of two years old, roughly half of that is al­lot­ted to her spe­cific needs (such as di­a­pers), and $10 goes to­ward milk. “And then god for­bid my son has a growth spurt and drinks the whole bag at one time, which he's been known to do,” she says. “That is stress­ful for me and I have to put on a good face for them. I don't want them to know I'm wor­ry­ing about that.”

As the ti­tle of the re­port sug­gests, food in­se­cu­rity is fur­ther-reach­ing than hunger. Rooted in poverty, it im­pacts health, sev­ers re­la­tion­ships, im­pinges on hap­pi­ness and a sense of self­worth, and chips away at em­ploy­ment op­por­tu­ni­ties, the CFCC found.

Eighty-one per cent of par­tic­i­pants said food in­se­cu­rity takes a toll on their phys­i­cal health; 79 per cent said it im­pacts their men­tal health; 64 per cent said it erodes re­la­tion­ships; 59 per cent said it af­fects their kids; and 57 per cent said it makes it more difficult to find and keep a job.

“Th­ese are all key things that add up to peo­ple be­ing pushed fur­ther to the mar­gins and their lives be­ing di­min­ished — and frankly, the data shows, short­ened as a re­sult of be­ing food in­se­cure,” says Nick Saul, CEO of CFCC.

With peo­ple such as Moore talk­ing openly about their ex­pe­ri­ences in the re­port, the non-profit hopes it will move peo­ple to take ac­tion by call­ing or writ­ing their MPs. The hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence has the abil­ity to drive home the is­sue in ways that statis­tics don't. Num­bers might fly by, says Saul, but sto­ries hold you.

“First-per­son sto­ries, whether you're left, cen­tre or right on the ide­o­log­i­cal or po­lit­i­cal pen­du­lum, you can't duck a story that is so clearly show­ing that peo­ple are work­ing over­time to try and make ends meet for them­selves and their fam­i­lies,” says Saul.

The rea­sons for food in­se­cu­rity in Canada are many, ac­cord­ing to the CFCC re­port: Low-wages and pre­car­i­ous jobs; low so­cial as­sis­tance rates; ris­ing cost of liv­ing; colo­nial­ism and sys­temic racism; and un­af­ford­able food in the North.

Food in­se­cu­rity is a holis­tic is­sue, says Saul; not the re­sult of poor bud­get­ing or in­di­vid­ual foibles. Rather than fall­ing back on the “moral re­lease valve” of char­ity and dona­tions — “Dona­tions don't cut it” — the re­port rec­om­mends cre­at­ing an in­come floor peo­ple can't fall be­low.

“Food won't solve hunger. In­come will,” says Saul. “If you frame the is­sue as hunger, you get food re­sponses and you get char­ity. If you frame the is­sue as poverty, you get pol­icy re­sponses and you get the right to food. That's where we need to be. It's not about sup­ply.”

In ad­di­tion to es­tab­lish­ing an in­come floor, CFCC rec­om­men­da­tions in­clude track­ing food in­se­cu­rity and set­ting tar­gets to re­duce it, and en­sur­ing there's “a race eq­uity lens” put on all poverty and food-se­cu­rity poli­cies to en­sure those most im­pacted will ben­e­fit. “Mak­ing sure ev­ery­one has a dig­ni­fied place at the ta­ble,” says Saul, “should be No. 1.”

For Moore, speak­ing out has lifted the stigma of food in­se­cu­rity. “I don't feel ashamed any­more. I used to feel em­bar­rassed,” she says. “But I don't want it to be a sad story — it's an em­pow­er­ing story. I'm say­ing this so we can get pol­icy changed. That's why I'm talk­ing.”

COM­MU­NITY FOOD CEN­TRES CANADA

Ni­cola Moore is ec­static when de­scrib­ing her har­vest: cu­cum­bers, green beans, let­tuce, squash, toma­toes, a va­ri­ety of herbs and an abun­dance of kale.

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