Rising food insecurity requires new responses: Feed the Need in Durham CEO – May 1, 2023
Courtesy of DurhamRegion.com – Click Link Here
Food banks in Durham, like those across Ontario, are in crisis mode, as they face an incredible rise in demand. In March 2020, at the outset of the pandemic, Feed the Need in Durham’s network of 65 food banks had 5,000 clients who made 6,600 visits that month. Three years later, in March 2023, this number has risen to 10,000 clients a month, making 20,000 visits. While food banks use has been rising steadily for several years prior to the pandemic, this rapid rate of growth over the past three years is unprecedented in the history of food banks in Canada.
This rise is a result of the rising cost of living affecting our community, in particular, the rising cost of food and housing that has strained household budgets across Durham. More individuals and families than ever before are facing tough choices each month as they try to meet the fiscal demands of their lives. This situation has had an effect on households across the economic spectrum, and food banks are seeing more clients than ever before who are fully employed, who own their homes, and who would have historically been able to meet the demands of their household budgets. This is no longer the case, and food banks in Durham have become the front-line response for many struggling residents across the community.
While this situation is being largely driven by high inflation affecting the cost of living for residents, it actually has its roots in economic conditions that predate the pandemic. For decades, rising income inequality, combined with rising housing costs, precarious employment, and rising household debt, have put households across Canada in situations that are vulnerable to even the slightest change to economic circumstance. At the outset of the pandemic, when millions of Canadians stopped working, it was only the implementation of COVID-related benefits that held off a crisis for many households. These conditions did not disappear as these benefits waned and ceased altogether, and as prices for essentials rose over the past 18 months, households have been faced with impossible circumstances, and many have had to turn to food banks for support that they never expected they would need.
At the end of the day, these are the systemic challenges of an economy that has for decades reduced the quality of work for too many in the labour force, leading to a situation where even those households with two gainfully employed adults may face the struggle of food insecurity. While Feed the Need in Durham, and our network of agencies, are ready to respond to this immediate need, ensuring that no one in Durham faces hunger without support, we know that this is only a short-term response to an acute situation. To actually address food insecurity, we need medium and long-term policy solutions that get to the roots of the problem: income insecurity and a food system that has commodified something that is essential to life and well-being.
To address the former issue, we need new solutions to support income security in Canada, including the advent of a basic income that would be available to all Canadians when they need it. The recently announced grocery rebate is a small step in the right direction, but it needs to be built upon to create a permanent benefit for Canadian households. The latter issue requires a larger conversation about what we want our food system to be. Durham is well placed to lead these conversations with our vibrant agricultural sector, which needs to be front and centre in this dialogue. We cannot have a healthy and sustainable food system without healthy and sustainable farms at the foundation.
Feed the Need in Durham is taking steps to lead these conversations because we do not want to see the need for food banks continue to rise in our community. This is neither economically nor morally sustainable.
Ben Earle is the CEO of Feed the Need in Durham, and also works with the Basic Income Canada Network, UBI Works and Common Wealth Canada to find sustainable, 21st-century solutions to the system issues of income and food insecurity in Canada.