Canada’s Little Secret: Food Insecurity in the North

By Lorraine Rousseau  

Food insecurity is a global threat to communities around the world.

Right now, there are more than 690 million hungry people around the world. The United Nations estimate numbers reflecting global food insecurity last year. The pandemic escalated global food insecurity highlighting the complex link between conflict and hunger, the effects of our climate crisis and the number of people in famine are growing.

As caring Canadians, respecting international humanitarian law, there is no doubt that we identify with and join other nations in helping those that face grave food insecurities and poverty. However, we need to ensure that no one is hungry here, in Canada, a country of abundance.

Food insecurity is as dangerous as the global pandemic. Do we turn a blind eye? It’s shameful for a developed country to have this little secret: millions face food insecurity in Canada. Although food insecurity is a reality for many vulnerable individuals across the country, this crisis hits northern remote communities the hardest. According to reports Inuit, First Nations and Métis adults across the North experience five to six times higher levels of food insecurity than the Canadian national average.

Food Secure Canada reports that nearly 70% of Nunavut live in food insecurity. This is the highest documented rate amongst Indigenous populations residing in developed countries. In 2017/2018, Statistics Canada found that of the households with children in Nunavut, 62.4% had food insecure adults and 42.7% had food insecure children.

Statistics are not just numbers. Individuals, families and children facing food insecurity are deprived from basic human rights: access to healthy and nutritious food necessary for physical and mental wellbeing. The human right to adequate and nutritious food is crucial to enjoy all other basic rights such as the right to health and education. The parity between the North and the rest of Canada when it comes to food insecurity amounts to systemic inequalities.

Now is the time to take action.

Subsidies have proven to be ineffective with minimal regulations over food stores and corporations that sell basic food items steeply priced. We often hear empty promises from those who could take action to address food insecurity in the North. I am, like many northerners, disappointed at slow and feeble measures proposed and used to address this avoidable chronic crisis.

Welcome and timely news as we learn that four northerners are named to the Nutrition North advisory board. I am hopeful that this will bring positive reforms that will facilitate solutions in addressing food insecurity. Solutions by northerners for northerners can and will change this devastating situation for the better.

Following the launch of Nutrition North program in 2011: food insecurity escalated, worsening an already appalling food system. A study published by The Canadian Medical Association Journal documented the following: “The annual rates of food insecurity ranged between 33.1% and 40.0% before the launch of Nutrition North Canada, between 39.4% and 45.7% during the implementation and 1-year lag, and between 46.0% and 55.6% after the full implementation.”

Why must we take action?

Imagine your child sleeping hungry. Imagine having to choose between education and food. Imagine not knowing what’s the best decision to take: pay for rent or buy groceries. Taking action to end food insecurity is taking action to protect human rights and dignity.

Addressing all inequalities and discrimination that Indigenous communities face daily, including food insecurity, is the only way towards sincere and effective Truth and Reconciliation.

With Nutrition North subsidies being ineffective, it’s time to look at other solutions. Decision makers and politicians take the burden in bringing change. But we are all responsible. As the imminent possibility of a Federal Election begins, let’s be informed and ask candidates about their plans on addressing this crucial human rights issue.

As we emerge from this pandemic, no one should be left behind and no one should go hungry.

This article originally appeared in the Yellowknifer on July 28, 2021