Thursday, February 17, 2011

Food Prices Going Up

Food Security is a Toronto Issue

...Did you know that February 7th was
 National Hunger Awareness Day ?

Globe and Mail article "Food inflation: It’s all about what’s on your plate" "Official numbers may show that food prices are up a scant 1.7 per cent from a year ago, but that hasn’t been the experience of many people looking at their grocery bills in horror."
Too true. I am fortunate to be able to shop at a No Frills only 2 blocks away, where there were frequent 'Dollar Days' for low cost, semi-nutritious food. Many people on low income or families with many children shop here. The Daily Bread Food Bank donation boxes I set up a few years ago are continually refilled by a generous community who donate more than the usual cheapest Kraft dinners - things like baby formula and pet food and even once imported dried Salmon from B.C. (I suspect some law firm also regularly delivers boxed donations of select foods).

However, ever since the inklings of food prices going up in the mainstream media, I've noticed significant increases in food costs even there (as much as 10-15% in my experience

How then will other communities in Toronto, many of whom do not have the accessibility of a No Frills, be able to cope with the now expected 5-10% increases over the next several months? (At least it is not as bad as food in the far north: $29 Cheez Whiz?)

How will those on fixed, low income cope? Minimum wage is not being increased beyond the $10.25/hour by the Province and social assistance reform is still a pipe dream, relegated to discussions by big name experts for yet another report, all whill the province ignores the reality of increasing poverty amongst its citizens.

The poor “often cannot access supermarkets, sometimes don’t have access to secure cooking facilities, adequate freezing and refrigeration space,” says John Stapleton, who holds the innovation fellowship at the Toronto-based Metcalf Foundation...high-calorie items, which include fast food, are advancing the most.

Poor Hit Hardest by Rising Food Prices "Although social assistance in Canada has more or less kept pace with inflation in recent years, it has not kept up with the speed at which food prices have increased, making it more and more expensive for poor Canadians to eat healthy....The percentage of income needed to purchase a healthy basket of food for a single person on social assistance rose by 10 percentage points between 2005 and 2009 alone, highlighting the mounting pressure faced by social assistance recipients to afford a nutritious diet...It's also often cheaper to purchase unhealthy foods. Two litres of pop, for example, is usually cheaper than one litre of milk.... If almost 20 per cent of Ontarians living in poverty state that they cannot afford to eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day, this signals a failure to properly nourish our most vulnerable residents. Much needs to be done to overcome this problem."

The other thing I've noticed is that food packages are getting smaller while prices stay the same or increase. This is confirmed by this story. So, we will be paying more for less.

Stories I've seen on tv news say that one of the reasons food prices are going up is the weather. In China, they are experiencing droughts that affect wheat production. In Florida, there have been cold weather catastrophes. In the USA,  there is concern that corn crops are being used for fuel rather than food!

Food Banks constantly have trouble meeting the demand with supply. Even with good intentions, like today's "Lunch Money Day" it isn't enough to solve the current hunger problems.

What can we do as a city to address the food issue?

Did you know that the City of Toronto has an official FOOD CHARTER ? or that there exists a Toronto Food Policy Council ? (Link) Wayne Roberts, Project Co-ordinator:\ is also a regular writer on food issues in NOW magazine (bio link ... or that Ryerson University has a Centre for Studies in Food Security ?

There are advocates for smarter food security like Nick Saul at The Stop Community Food Centre, who often espouse a partial solution is more community gardens to grow food in urban settings. In my view, it will never be enough to ensure true food security in big cities, who still have to rely on rural farmland production. They say "Farmers Feed Cities" which is very true, and I am concerned that there is a lot of development that steals farmland with urban agendas trumping rural ones.

Many people falsely believe that there is a secure fall back system that works: the Food Bank, which started as a temporary stop gap measure some 30 years ago and is now a poverty industry institution. Not a lot is changing with food banks in my view. Here is an article I wrote in 2003 that still applies: Food Banks Failing Us ... very little has changed except that it has become increasingly the job of charities and not governments to feed the people.

This is all so very, very wrong.

* Update: Inflation rate edges down to 2.3% in January says StatsCan in a  CBC story "The agency says rises in energy prices (particularly the cost of gasoline), as well as car insurance, home replacement costs and restaurant meals, contributed to keeping inflation above the Bank of Canada's ideal two per cent level." Note: This seems to totally ignore food prices.