Land of Milk and Hunger


The Land of Milk and Hunger video from PullFocusFilmSchool, directed by Iain Marshall, features interviews with Dr. John Millar, Provincial Health Officer (retired) and Kathy Romses, Public Health Dietician, interwoven with the real life challenges of a family recently immigrated to Canada who have a young child. Dr. Millar sets the background:

  • Despite living in such a wealthy province, 1 in 5 children are living in poverty in BC
  • A lot of the poverty in BC is working poverty: 60% of children living in poverty have two parents working.
  • Living wage in Vancouver is around $20 an hour; minimum wage is only $10 an hour.

What happens when financial reality prevents families from purchasing healthy, nutritious food? The consequences may last a lifetime.

Kathy Romses highlights that an individual who is raising a family can work 6 days a week, 12 hours a day at minimum wage in BC, and still be below the poverty line.

Moreover, poverty is one of the biggest single determinants of how healthy you are likely to be. Living in circumstances of poverty significantly increases stress levels, which has a huge impact on health. She adds that research shows that poverty affects the brain size of children. Lack of nutrients can affect their long term growth and development.

Food insecurity is a major issue for many BC families. Dr. Millar discusses how families living below the poverty line struggle to buy healthy food and sometimes to any food at all. Food bank usage in Canada has increased 20% in the past five years.

Transportation can be a huge challenge if you don’t live near food sources. Parents must finance transit trips to stores that sell good quality food or food banks, while simultaneously juggling food bags and managing their children. Land of Milk and Hunger also illustrates that for low income families, there is little left for food once shelter and daycare is paid for.

Throughout the BC school system, children show up to school hungry which impacts their ability to learn. In this circumstance, children are more likely to become discouraged at school and far more likely to not graduate, which increases the difficulty of finding employment, perpetuating the cycle of poverty.

Dr. Millar states that parents often do not have the resources, time and skill to deal with the stresses they experience which increases the likelihood of health problems and reduces the time and energy they have to spend time with their children. When money is tight, parents often do without food to ensure their children have food to eat.

Dr. Millar makes the following recommendations:

  • Tax the manufacturers of high sugar and fat, addictive food products to generate revenue for government to use to subsidize healthy food products.
  • Develop a more progressive income tax to help reduce inequities.
  • Find more income from our natural resources, and collect higher royalty payments.
  • Find opportunities for corporations and public health and government agencies to work together.