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The Great Food Fight

Do you know what is costs to buy a healthy food basket in London these days? It may not be something that some of us pay all that much attention to. However, in every community, there are members who struggle financially to make ends meet. It’s easy for members of higher socio-economic status to pin laziness and a string of poor decisions and life circumstances as the reasons behind the shortcomings of those in need, but often times these aren’t the reasons why there is such a divide between the well-off and the not-so-well-off.

Food security is more than just having food resources available.

Food security has become somewhat of a buzzword as of late, but it seems to get thrown about a little carelessly. To some, food security has to do with being able to produce enough food to feed our population, others bring in the topic of food waste, and the debate surrounding the import of food products from around the world. Technically speaking, food security is defined as when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life, according to the World Food Summit.

To put this all in perspective, we can take a look at some eye opening data from right here in the London community: the cost of a nutritious food basket according to the Middlesex-London Health Unit. In May 2014, the estimated total monthly cost to feed a family of four was $804.64. This is an $18.14 or 2.3% increase from the estimated cost in May 2013.

Cost of Living in London

These numbers show that people relying on social assistance either do not have enough money to cover their basic monthly living expenses including nutritious food, or they do, but with next to nothing left over to cover any incidental expenses that come up such as medical expenses or transportation, let alone accumulate savings to help them improve their situations. When money is this tight, it’s easy to see why healthy food is the first thing to go. Processed, packaged foods are a better value and go farther than fresh produce, dairy, whole grains, and lean protein. But could healthy food be the real key to success here?

Food banks aren’t cutting it.

Food banks and emergency food services are available for just this reason, however when we see what people who use these services usually walk away with, it becomes clear that both the volume and quality of food they receive does not serve their physical and mental health adequately. Canned beans and peanut butter are wonderful sources of protein, fibre, and nutrients. Pastas and rice are great too. But what if the people who are using these services don’t have the resources to prepare these foods, or the knowledge? Even if these barriers weren’t present, it’s pretty hard to make a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a couple cans of beans/veggies/fruit, and boxes of pasta last a whole week, eating three meals a day. Forget that complete nutrition is almost impossible with this spread, but food rationing and meal skipping is almost inevitable.

How do you feel when you’re hungry – stuck at work or school longer than expected and forgot to pack a meal. Irritable, tired, hard to focus? What if you felt like that on a daily basis, on top of the constant stress that comes with being unsure of where your next meal will come from, or if you’ll have enough to cover rent this month. Being able to apply yourself and be productive at school or work would feel impossible.

Harvest Bucks Program

But there’s good news!

Awareness of the problem of food security in a country that is known for its prosperity is slowly gaining momentum. Social activists against food waste are taking a stand, and new programs and initiatives are being explored and implemented. Just like any large scale economic, social, and cultural issue, the solution must be multi-pronged.

Woodstock Food Card Program – doing away with food banks and empowering the community.

London Harvest Bucks – increasing fruit and vegetable consumption among the London community and addressing the barrier to accessing fresh produce among those in need.

The London Community Resource Centre also has an important part to play, with its community gardens and cooking programs. Without food literacy, transforming limited resources into healthful meals that people actually want to eat is a major barrier that the LCRC is helping to overcome. Providing residents with skills and knowledge of how to select nutritious foods and prepare delicious meals, including an understanding of how food is connected to health, well-being, and safety, knowledge of what constitutes a healthy diet, how to read and understand food labels and claims, how to store, handle, prepare, and dispose of food safely, and how to plan a grocery list and budget for food are all necessary for our efforts to pay off.

With their extensive knowledge of nutrition and efficient enhancement of the quality of daily life, dietitians and professional home economists should also be key players. As a dietetic student, I can assure you that we are taught all about the importance of sustainability and food security, and the weight these issues carry when we make recommendations. Dietitians and home economists have a potentially large role to play in advocacy efforts for community food security, but are just one piece of the multi-faceted solution we need in order to make adequate, healthy, and delicious food resources more accessible in our communities.

[About the Author] Alida is a nutrition student, aspiring dietitian, lover of food, lifter of weights, and wearer of fluorescent gym attire. She shares her recipes, kitchen adventures, and some insight into the world of nutrition on her blog Fandangoed Foodie.

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