A report focusing on the level of food insecurity across Canada suggests Newfoundland and Labrador is in a better position than any other province or territory.
According to a report called “Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2011,” the province’s food insecurity rate was the lowest in the country at 10.6 per cent.
The report shows the pro-vince’s rate has declined every year since 2007, when it was 15.7 per cent. That trend was unique to Newfoundland and Labrador.
Kristie Jameson, executive director for the Food Security Network of Newfoundland and Labrador, said the report’s findings come from the perspective of food security in relation to economic access to food.
“If you look at the timelines from 2007 to 2011, we have certainly in this province seen economic growth and a fair number of people coming out of poverty ... which I would say is the reason why we’re seeing a decrease in the amount of food insecurity from the perspective of economic access,” said Jameson.
She also noted that trends identified in the report are consistent with information coming from Food Banks Canada. Its annual hunger report for 2012 showed that for the year ending March 2012, 27,044 people used food banks in the province. That’s a decrease of almost 1,600 people compared to 2011.
That report also notes that Newfoundland and Labrador has experienced a decline in social assistance beneficiaries over the last few years. The report adds that social assistance benefits in the province are amongst the highest in Canada at $9,593, though it notes that figure remains “far below” the poverty level.
The food insecurity report found a slight difference between food insecurity rates in Canada for rural areas (10 per cent) and urban centres (almost 13 per cent). Jameson suggests this, too, may help explain why Newfoundland and Labrador’s level of food insecurity was lower than other jurisdictions.
“That might also being playing a role in this, because of those histories and traditions of gardening, farming, and fishing and harvesting in the country and wild foods.”
Jameson also referenced the practice in rural areas of informally bartering with others. For example, a person may do a favour for an acquaintance and receive fish or moose as a form of gratitude. There are also cases where people share food with family members and neighbours in rural areas.
While this may offer good news for people in Newfoundland and Labrador, Jameson said people should not lose sight of the fact there remains “very real and very lived experiences of food insecurity across the province.”
The Canadian average for food insecurity for 2011 was 12.3 per cent. Amongst the provinces, the three highest rates for food insecurity were recorded in the Maritime provinces.
Newfoundland and Labrador’s rate was also the lowest in the country for children in food insecure homes at 14.2 per cent.
From a food sustainability perspective, Jameson said the province is at a disadvantage given its geographic makeup. She notes there have been instances in the past where Newfoundland and Labrador’s food supply has been threatened by weather and labour disputes.
“We are faced with a position where we only have two-to-three days supply of fresh fruits and vegetables in the province,” she said of such threats. “There’s still broader issues when we think about food security than just the economic access component, although that of course is a huge issue.”
Jameson said there is a lot of good work happening across the province to address food insecurity, citing the existence of community gardens, farmers’ markets, community kitchens, and other endeavours.
The report was prepared by PROOF, a group of researchers from multiple universities that is funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. It used information collected in Statistics Canada’s Canadian Community Health Survey.