The Cost of Eating in BC – Food security is not improving in BC
The Cost of Eating in British Columbia report details the cost of accessing adequate food in BC, relates this cost to income and considers the reasons why many people cannot meet this basic need. In 2011, the provincial average cost of the nutritious food basket for a family of four was $868 per month. Those earning minimum wage, receiving income assistance or facing other challenges (high rents, child care or transportation costs, for example) struggle to purchase food as well as meet their other basic needs.
In the 10 years that Cost of Eating in BC has been published, the situation has only gotten worse for individuals and families earning low wages or receiving government assistance.
The report stresses that to ensure individuals and families are food secure, underlying factors such as poverty and the food system must be addressed.
The report makes five recommendations for change:
- Establish a provincial poverty reduction strategy: “A common misconception is that a poverty reduction strategy will cost more than the good it will do. The reality is that such legislation will save billions of dollars a year….Other provinces have already demonstrated that a comprehensive poverty reduction strategy can be truly effective.”
- Build affordable housing: “No individual or family should have to make a choice between housing and food. Affordable housing, which includes both social and market housing, must be included in community planning initiatives. Social housing developments need to take into consideration the needs of tenants, including food access, preparation and storage.”
- Update income assistance to reflect the cost of living: “As mentioned, many people suffering from food insecurity receive income assistance from the BC Ministry of Social Development. These income assistance amounts have increased very little since 2001. The costs of housing, food, and other expenses have increased greatly, yet those on assistance are expected to survive with shat little allowance they receive. This is unrealistic.”
- Enact a living wage policy: “Food insecurity also strikes those who are employed. …Individuals earning a living wage are able to make better food choices, can more actively contribute to the community, and are not forced to choose one basic need over another.”
- Work toward sustainable food systems that no longer require food banks: “Working toward change in our food systems will be a long process requiring collaborative efforts from food producers, consumers, and governments of all levels. This would require a shift in consumer attitude, policies, and community planning, making it a fairly complicated but necessary recommendation. One way that the province could work toward food security is by streamlining and localizing the food supply chain as much as possible…To facilitate the transition in the food systems, farmers and consumers can work together, establishing an adequate number of farmers markets, co-operatives, community gardens, and food share programs. Local food should be made more readily available through the three most dominant sectors: retail, restaurant/industry, and institutions (schools, hospitals, etc). Educational and interactive food programs in schools are important… A more productive, efficient food supply chain combined with other policy changes such as an increase in wages and income assistance could mean a possible end for emergency food aid. These recommendations must occur in conjunction to ensure individuals and families access their food in a dignified manner and through their own means.”
The report identifies the following barriers that British Columbians face in accessing food:
- Income level
- Purchasing power
- Proximity to places where food is sold (especially those in remote locations)
- Lack of knowledge or space for food preparation and storage
The report quotes from the CCPA-BC 2008 report, “A Poverty Reduction Plan for BC” that “a wide variety of people suffer from food insecurity, most prominently women, Aboriginal peoples, the working poor, seniors, the homeless population, and those with mental or physical health issues” and references the Cost of Poverty in BC Report (Ivanova, July 2011) that our communities as a whole experience higher health care costs, lost economic activity, and increased crime and policing costs, which can largely be attributed to the overall condition of poverty. “To maintain the status quo of poverty, the cost to the province is an overwhelming $8.1-9.2 billion per year. The implementation of a poverty reduction strategy would cost just half that, at roughly $4 billion. By not addressing the issue of poverty, governments and citizens are losing money and lives are negatively affected.” (Ivanova, 2008)
The report cites the Poverty Reduction legislation in Ontario, Quebec and Newfoundland & Labrador that have been featured in earlier editions of the Keeping in Touch newsletter (Aug & Sept 2013) and reinforces the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition suggestion that BC has much to learn from strategies such as the one in place in Newfoundland.
Along with its recommendations, the report states that “Fighting poverty and social exclusion is a collective responsibility” and gives suggestions for individual and corporate action:
- Log onto the BC Poverty Reduction Coalition website which provides information on the cost of poverty in BC (watch the videos at http://bcpovertyreduction.ca/category/video to find out more) and how to take action.
- Enlist the help of your local MLA.
- Support the Living Wage for Families campaign in BC. Suggest to your local government officials that your community support this initiative.
- Volunteer your time and skills at an organization that supports poverty reduction. Learn more at Raise the Rates.
- Volunteer at and support your local food bank to provide help in the short-term while working to find long-term solutions that may eliminate the need for food banks.
- Check out the BC Food Security Gateway which will inform and link you to projects, initiatives, and organizations in BC working to build a healthy BC.
- Help to build a strong market for local food by demanding it at restaurants, grocery stores, and other institutions (get started at www.getlocalbc.org).
- Help the next generation learn about healthy eating and transitioning to local, sustainable food systems by suggesting a Farm to School program be implemented in the curriculum of your child’s school or your neighbourhood.
- Get involved in or start a local food policy council. See Kamloops Food Policy Council for an example.
- Support affordable housing in BC by contacting the Ministry of Energy and Mines, Office of Housing and Construction Standards.
- Promote dialogue in your community to look critically at food security issues using the Community Food Assessment Guide.
Engage in conversations with family, friends and neighbours about food security initiatives and possible solutions.