Rising food prices and stagnating incomes have been identified as major obstacles to achieving food security. In regards to one in six households, or 15.9 percent, in Canada experience food insecurity.
Economic barriers such as food prices are not the only obstacles to food security. Our study, published by Food Security Canadahighlights that systemic barriers such as colonialism, racism and other systems of injustice are among the root causes of food insecurity in Canada.
Food and Agriculture Organization United Nations, food security requires economic, physical and social access to food.
Economic access involves factors such as income, poverty and food affordability. Physical access is linked to infrastructure and facilities such as roads and transport. Social Access aims to ensure that people have access to all necessary resources within society for nutritious and culturally appropriate foods. Food insecurity occurs if any of these pathways fail.
Interrelated barriers to food security
Our research reveals three major barriers to food access:
- policies that perpetuate wealth and income disparity, and
- systemic forms of discrimination such as colonialism and racism.
The results demonstrate that low-income people require long-term solutions that comprehensively address all forms of food access.
Our study identified affordability as the main barrier to accessing food. THE Consumer price index shows that food prices increased by 10.4% in 2022. Similarly, Report on food prices in Canada in 2023 indicates that food prices remain a major concern for Canadians, putting increasing pressure on household food security.
Income inequality in Canada has increased over the past 20 years. THE Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB) is a policy to reduce the effects of work disruptions during the pandemic. For many food activistsCERB is an example of how a basic income measurement can address income inequality. Recent statisticsshow, however, that it did not improve the food security of those who benefited from it.
This suggests that future policies need to better address income disparities. Policies must also explain why certain groups – such as Aboriginal people living off reserve, recent immigrants and people with disabilities – are consistently among the those living on low incomes compared to other groups.
Discrimination, racism and colonialism
Various systems of discrimination such as racism and colonialism further impact access to food. The highest percentage of people living in food insecure households in Canada are Aboriginal (30.7%), Arab/West Asian (27.6%) and Black (22.4%). Our study also highlights that racism and colonialism significantly shape the relationship that Black, Indigenous, and people of color have with food. One study participant said that:
“Colonialism has an ongoing impact on how we perceive food, portions and our relationships with food that need to be challenged in order to move towards sustainable consumption.”
Historic and ongoing colonialism separated indigenous peoples from their lands and food systems. This has created significant barriers to accessing foods essential to Aboriginal health and well-being. Indigenous communities also face challenges in maintaining practices such as hunting and fishing, which are necessary to obtain culturally appropriate food.
Additionally, our study found that Indigenous, Black, and People of Color-led community initiatives face barriers to receiving grants and funding due to Eurocentric structures and processes included in the application and report. This limits the number of cultural or heritage-specific programs that organizations can offer to their communities.
A roadmap to food security for all
Lower food prices may immediately address the lack of economic access to food, but will not address the root causes of food insecurity. Addressing systemic barriers is essential to ensuring economic, physical and social access to food for all, at all times. These three types of food access are interconnected.
Participants in our study highlighted some initiatives that are a step in the right direction. For example, in 2021 the City of Toronto approved the Toronto Black Food Sovereignty Plan. This is a five-year community-based program focused on addressing and creating long-term solutions to food insecurity among Black people in Toronto.
One participant described its importance:
“(The plan) aims to uphold the right of people of African descent to healthy and culturally appropriate food, produced by environmentally sound and sustainable methods, and their right to define their own food and agricultural systems and to build their own institutions. to advance community capacity and resilience for food access.
Identifying systemic barriers to food security is not enough to create change. Long-term solutions will require elected officials and industry leaders to make significant institutional changes. As suggested in this Report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nationsinclusiveness and consideration of structural inequalities are necessary to address food insecurity.
Our study argues that any solution must be delivered in a democratic, fair and inclusive manner. These approaches should take into account indigenous traditional knowledge and combat racism, colonialism and other systems of discrimination. To achieve food security, Canadians need to focus on the underlying causes of food insecurity, not just saving money at the grocery checkout.