Rachel Cheng, Communications Manager & Gisèle Yasmeen, Executive Director from Food Secure Canada, argue that post-COVID, a zero hunger Canada is within reach
Last year, Canadians flocked to stores and worried about having enough food to stock their pantry. Yet for many of us, the worry of putting food on the table is not new. Even before COVID-19, food insecurity was a reality for millions of Canadians. Indigenous, Black and racialized communities were experiencing hunger at even higher rates. Meanwhile, farmers were facing an income crisis, and too much of our food chain depended on precarious, low-paid jobs and gig work.
From farm to fork, people are struggling to get by, and it is apparent that structural change is required. It is an opportune moment to look at the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and their ambitious targets for a better world, including ending hunger, prioritising sustainable food, and taking urgent action on climate change.
Addressing inequality & hunger: Sustainable Development Goals
Only six years ago in 2015, the SDGs were adopted by Member States of the United Nations, including Canada. These goals are compelling not only because of their big vision, but also because they act as objectives to which we can hold our governments accountable.
They inherently require the collaboration of actors across sectors, departments, and levels of government, as well as with a diverse set of stakeholders.
Leaving no one behind is core to the SDGs, and while the world was making progress towards reducing inequality (SDG 10), the upheaval from COVID-19 has led to what the UN acknowledges as “the worst economic and social crisis in generations.” (1) In Canada, food insecurity is now experienced by almost one in seven (14.6%) of Canadians (2). Moreover, specific communities experience higher rates of food insecurity. Before the pandemic, Black households in Canada were already three and a half times more likely to experience food insecurity (3), and this is likely amplified by the pandemic, which is disproportionately affecting racialized communities, many of whom labour in essential services or jobs in which they cannot work from home. In a country priding itself on its diversity, Canada must confront the systemic biases, discrimination and racism, which lead to certain communities being more at risk of hunger.
Growing resilience and equity in Canada
The deadline to meet the SDGs is quickly approaching in 2030, but the good news is that communities already know many of the ways forward. Using the SDGs as a framework, Food Secure Canada launched a roadmap for getting to healthier, more just, and more sustainable food systems, in Growing resilience and equity: A food policy action plan in the context of Covid-19. This action plan outlines policy priorities based on lessons learned from those working in community, academic, and non-profit organisations, using an inclusive public interest-based approach. Key proposals include:
- Address the root cause of food insecurity through establishing a universal liveable income floor beneath which no one can fall, while ensuring that everyone in Canada has access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.
- Support Indigenous food sovereignty where First Nations, Métis and Inuit determine their own place-based food systems, advancing policies that will best support self-determined resilient futures.
- Champion decent work and justice for all workers along the food chain by ensuring decent pay and conditions for every food worker, and meeting the specific demands of migrant workers.
- Ensure everyone is at the policymaking table through the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council (CFPAC), which should include resourcing to ensure that wider civil society voices, above all those most marginalised by the present food system, are included.
Meeting the SDGs in Canada
In Canada, the recently launched Food Policy for Canada is intended to align with the commitment to the SDGs, including ending hunger within the next nine years. As such, there is no time to waste in implementing policy proposals from the grassroots that are supported by evidence.
Fortunately, the Food Policy for Canada will be supported by the Canadian Food Policy Advisory Council, a multi-stakeholder group with representatives from across the food system that was named in February 2021. The result of years of advocacy by Food Secure Canada and its allies, this Council has the potential to encourage an integrated approach to food systems governance. The Council will also help Canada meet the SDGs in a transparent manner, with the development of measurable targets and associated indicators, which should include race-based data developed with and by affected communities.
We cannot rely on charitable food to end hunger
While food banks and similar organisations do invaluable work, only a fifth of those who are food insecure in Canada go to food banks, (4) and it is clear that we cannot rely on charitable food to solve hunger. Moreover, the effects of hunger impact more than physical health, negatively impacting one’s mental health and ability to find and retain employment. (5)
This is why one of the most urgent policy proposals is to establish a universal liveable income floor beneath which no one can fall. This can start by increasing existing income supports and tax credits at both the federal and provincial levels, such as the recent increase to the Canada Child Benefit. This can also be complemented by social programs such as rent subsidies, pharmacare, and is connected to the related push for a liveable minimum wage here in Canada.
As a post-COVID world comes into focus, we must not lose time or momentum to effect profound change in the way we grow, cook, and eat food. The inseparable crises of food insecurity and social inequality have been magnified by the pandemic. In Canada, we must not forget our commitments to the SDGs not only for the sake of the goals themselves, but for the health and wellbeing of the diversity of communities from coast to coast to coast.
(1) United Nations (n.d.). “SDG 10: Reduce inequality within and among countries.”
(2) Statistics Canada (2020). “Food insecurity during COVID-19 pandemic, May 2020.”
(3) PROOF & FoodShare (2019). “Fact Sheet: Rache and Food Insecurity.”
(4) Tarasuk V, Fafard St-Germain AA & Loopstra R (2019). “The relationship between food banks and food insecurity: insights from Canada” Voluntas 2019.
(5) Community Food Centres Canada (2020). “Beyond Hunger: The Hidden Impacts of Food Insecurity”
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