Friday, August 2, 2013

Slow Motion Famine Continues

Well, lead author Valerie Tarasuk Ph.D. (along with Andy Mitchell and Naomi Dachner), professor in the Department of Nutritional Sciences at U of Toronto has released the results of a new study (pdf) into food insecurity in Canada between 2008 (the year the bubble burst) and 2011. Little surprise, things are not looking good. Bigger surprise, just how awful things actually are.
Dr. Tarasuk sums up the state of food insecurity in Canada quite succinctly in a statement she made:
Almost 3.9 million Canadians experienced some level of food insecurity in 2011. This marks an increase of over 450,000 people since 2008. It includes 1.1 million children living in households that have worried about running out of food, made compromises in the quality of their diets, ate less than they felt they should, and possibly gone without eating, all because they did not have the money to buy more food. The seriousness of this situation, its impact on individuals, families, communities, on our health care system and economy over all, cannot be overstated.
In an interview with the Winnipeg Free Press, she points out that the only exception to this Canada-wide increase is in Newfoundland and Labrador--the only places where an aggressive anti-poverty program has been running during the same time period.
What's worse:
One of the most "disturbing" findings in the report, she said, is that almost one million households in 2011 were food insecure but relied financially on employment.
"That says something really bad about the things we are doing to support people in the labour force," Tarasuk said.

This jibes with what we've been seeing at the Rainbow Kitchen; our primary client group are people on social assistance, but we've seen a rising number of "working poor" showing up. People who are under-waged (a living wage in Victoria is about $18/hr while the minimum wage has been recently raised to $10/hr.), under-employed, or having trouble for a number of other reasons.
Gary Bloch, MD, Chair of the Ontario College of Family Physicians’ Committee on Poverty and Health and founding member of the advocacy group Health Providers Against Poverty commented:
“The PROOF report on food insecurity in Canada represents a major step forward in tracking the true impact of poverty in Canada. This powerful piece of research should push us to treat food security as a national “vital sign”. It is hard to imagine how we can have a healthy and happy populace without everyone having access to adequate good, healthy food. And a lack of food security points to the deeper social ills we struggle to contain."
And Stephen Gaetz, Associate Dean, Research and Professional Development, Faculty of Education Director, Homeless Hub (Canadian Homelessness Research Network) points out:
When people cannot get enough to eat because they don’t have the resources, not does physical health decline, but so does mental health and well being, and people’s ability to engage with others, participate in work or recreation, and more generally function in a healthy way. The current solutions to food insecurity are not adequate, and hunger must be part of any conversation about poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, and the solutions to these problems.”
 The numbers that come out of the report are staggering: the "economic engines" of the country--Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia, and Alberta (Oilberta! ffs)--account for 85% of the food insecure population. In Nunavut, 1in 2 (!!) children are food insecure. And almost a million food insecure people (937,000) rely on wages, salary, or self-employment income.
PROOF has put up a terrific infographic--sadly, it's so big that posting it here won't do it justice. I'll post it at the end of this, but you're better off clicking the above link.
So what does this report tell us? That regardless of all the lovely theories and ideological statements, the system is broken. Not damaged, not failing. Broken. If you are working, playing by the "rules," and you still can't be food secure (to say nothing of shelter secure), then the system simply does not work.

We need a revolution in how we think about food, work and the economy. 
In Australia, some of this thinking is going on in the Green Party:
Greens Leader Christine Milne launched the party's food plan policy at the weekend, saying the broadband era offers a huge opportunity for farmers to sell their produce for a better price, outside the supermarket supply chain.
The Greens' $85 million would help set up farmers markets, food box sales, farmer co-operatives and regional marketing and food hubs. [...]
"This is a policy of saying, let's help those small to medium scale farmers who want to get out of debt and operate maybe at a smaller scale, but get a higher value for the products they sell."
Damn right. We've worked for decades to destroy the small family farm--as Wenonah Hauter details in Foodopoly--and it's about damned time we started reversing that. I would like to see a separate food system--growers, packers, abattoirs--in place to ensure that local growers can sell to local consumers. We need a far more resilient food system rather than one that outsources labour and sucks profits out of an area or country. More than $0.80 of each dollar spent at WalMart leaves the area or the country. That is no way to build an economy. We need to concentrate on local import replacement rather than strip-mining the wealth of nations to feed the insatiable money lust of the 1%. Why? Because people in Canada are starving when they don't have to.

Anyway, here's a video with Valarie Tarasuk taking about Canadian food security:

And the infographic I spoke about (and linked to) above:

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