Where and how we get food, and the kinds of food we are able to obtain, is directly connected to our personal health and culture. Food security (having enough to eat) and food sovereignty (having control over our food source) are central to personal well-being, as well as the well-being of our families and communities. Yet many people in Thunder Bay and Area have trouble getting enough to eat and/or affording healthy and preferred foods.
A wide range of factors impact access to a nutritious and dignified diet, including poverty, social and geographic isolation, the high cost of fuel, inadequate housing, lack of transportation, lost or fragmented skills, and access to land for traditional hunting and gathering. Because secure access to a healthy and culturally appropriate diet is influenced by so many diverse factors, solutions must be broadly based and grounded in principles of social equity.
According to a national study conducted by Health Canada, household food insecurity is a significant social and public health problem in Canada. In 2011, 1.6 million Canadian households, or slightly more than 12%, experienced some level of food insecurity, affecting 1 in every 6 children. The rate of food insecurity is also increasing within both urban and rural areas. For instance, food bank and soup kitchen usage increased 3% between 2012 and 2013 within the region.
A recent study found that households with children under age 18 (16%) were more likely to be food insecure than those without children (11%). Poor nutrition leads to increased risk of chronic and infectious diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer, as well as conditions such as low birth weight. In other words, a secure, healthy diet is central to our physical and social well-being, dignity and autonomy. It would therefore be more cost effective and just to prevent these conditions, and the social exclusion that may accompany them, by ensuring that people are economically and logistically able to purchase adequate and nutritious foods.
Thunder Bay has developed many independent initiatives to address food insecurity. The Good Food Box, community kitchens and gardens, and emergency food programs such as food banks and adult meal programs, are some examples of community-based approaches to improving access to food.
Charitable efforts are important and necessary to meet immediate or emergency needs, and opportunities exist for better coordination and expansion. However, emergency food programs do not address the systemic causes of food insecurity, such as economic inequality. Achieving a food secure and food sovereign community requires that all citizens be engaged in the movement towards an equitable distribution of resources, and with the recognition that food security is a basic human right.
In partnership with the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the Food Access working group held several focus groups in March 2014 to better understand the challenges low income families face when trying to access healthy and local food. The Food Mapping Focus Group Report summarizes their findings.
Together with Lakehead University’s Geospatial Data Centre, and with funding from the Thunder Bay District Health Unit, the Food Access working group created a map of community and emergency food programs in the City of Thunder Bay. This map shows the type and distribution of programs within Thunder Bay as of 2013.