Food insecurity is caused by, and has effects on, important areas of our lives—our families, children, environment, economy, communities and health.
We care because of our
FAMILIES & CHILDREN
Food insecurity can be very stressful. Parents especially can be anxious about having enough food for their children and being able to give them good food so they grow up strong and healthy. Some parents even worry that their children might be taken from them if they cannot feed them enough good food.
Some families can become preoccupied with food—worrying all day about whether there is enough food for dinner and the next day. This kind of stress can be bad for our relationships and health. Feeling stressed and insecure can lead to depression, anger, diabetes, and high blood pressure. It can also make it harder for us to fight off infections like colds and flu.
Parents are right to be concerned about whether their children have enough good food. Poor nutrition in childhood can affect the development of both the body and mind. Not having enough good food can make it harder for children to do well at school and even stay in school. Poor nutrition in childhood has effects that can last a lifetime.
We care because of our COMMUNITIES.
Food insecurity, poverty, inequality, and unemployment can harm our communities and lead to community breakdown.
In rural areas many people have been forced to leave their communities because they can no longer make a living as a farmer or fisher. In cities, food insecurity can lead to crime when people are driven to steal or sell drugs to avoid hunger or homelessness. Food insecurity can lead to us feeling that our neighborhood is not a safe, healthy or comfortable place to live.
Equity and social justice happen when people are treated fairly, when everyone in the community has the same opportunities in life, and when the community works together so everyone is secure. Equity and social justice are part of the web supporting healthy communities.
In a healthy community, people can earn a living and can get the food they need. A healthy community is a place where people feel connected to each other and feel they are a part of the community.
Healthy communities are a result of supportive public policies that consider social and health impacts. These kinds of policies can improve the health of individuals and communities. The Food for Thought box below provides an example of healthy public policies.
We care because of our ENVIRONMENT
The way we now produce and process food cannot support a sustainable food system—that is, a way of producing food that will last into the future and ensure that our children and our children’s children will have the food they need.
The methods currently used for growing and gathering food can affect the environment in many ways. For example, in some areas:
• There is a loss of natural vegetation.
• Some kinds of plants are being wiped out.
• Fish stocks are running out.
• The quality and amount of land available for growing food is declining.
• Topsoil—the living fertile part of the soil—is blowing and washing away.
• Pesticides and bacteria (for example, E. Coli) are contaminating
our water supplies and adding toxins to the air we breathe.
• The traditional food sources of Aboriginal and Innu communities are being contaminated and many are even being wiped out.
• The oil and gas used to transport food long distances contributes to poorer air quality.
To ensure sustainable food systems, we need planning and policies that protect our land, water and resources. We can see the results of poor planning and policy very close to home— right here in Canada, over-production and unsustainable management have led to the collapse of the cod fisheries and other types of fish stocks are threatened.
We care because of our ECONOMY.
Canada has the most concentrated food economy of any Western Country — a very small number of powerful companies control most of the food economy.
This means that local economies suffer because small, community-based businesses—especially small farmers—are squeezed out by large-scale agri-businesses. The money we spend on food does not remain in our communities—in many cases the money doesn’t even stay in Canada. Jobs are lost and when people have to travel farther outside their community to work there is less money for food.
The average income for a farm in Canada has fallen to levels not seen since the 1930s.
An example of the impact of these economic policies comes from Ontario. In spite of the productivity of the fertile fruit and vegetable farmlands in Southern Ontario, in 1994 the province spent $1.9 billion dollars more on importing fruits and vegetables than it earned from exporting its own.
We care because of our HEALTH.
A healthy environment, healthy economy and healthy community all contribute to our health as individuals and as a population.
All of these factors affect our ability to get the food we need, now and in the future. If these aspects of our lives are put at risk, so is our health.
Environmental, economic and social factors are all determinants of health. For example, income and social status is the most significant determinant of health — that is, the more money you have the healthier you will be. Income plays a major role in access to food and has a significant impact on food security.
Just as having enough money is good for your health, poverty and inequality are very bad for your health. Not having enough to eat and not having good quality, nutritious food can have short- and long-term effects on mental and physical health. For example, poor nutrition leads to chronic illnesses such as heart disease and diabetes.
The Determinants of Health: are a set of 12 factors that act together to influence the health of individuals and communities. In this workbook, we approach food security from a determinants of health perspective.This means that we recognize that food insecurity has a profound impact on health because it is so closely connected to other aspects of our lives.We also recognize that we can have an impact on food security by developing healthy public policies that affect any of these 12 determinants.
Health Canada identifies 12 determinants of health: Income and Social Status, Social Support Networks, Education, Employment / Working Conditions, Social Environments, Physical Environments, Personal Health Practices and Coping Skills, Healthy Child Development, Biology and Genetic Endowment, Health Services, Gender, and Culture.
To understand how each of these determinants can influence our health it helps to look at an example. Read through the following example about Amber. After each point the social determinants affecting her are indicated in brackets. For each point, try to think about what could be done to help Amber and have a more positive impact on her health. For example, after the first point one thing that could help Amber would be if her place of employment provided lunch or snacks to all of their employees. This may be really hard to do, but try to think of some ideas anyway, talk to other people about it and see if they have any ideas.
Amber's co-worker had to drive her to the hospital because she passed out at work this afternoon. But why did she pass out?
Because she has been skipping meals. (personal health practices and coping skills)
But why does she skip meals?
Because she doesn’t have much food in her house. (social and physical environments)
Why doesn't she get more food to eat?
Because she only has $30 left until her next paycheck and she doesn’t have a way to get to the grocery store, which is pretty far from her house. (income and social status, physical environments)
But why is the grocery store so far away?
There used to be grocery store a few minutes walk from Amber's house but it closed down a few months ago after a big all-in-one supermarket opened up a few miles away. (physical environments)
But why doesn't she have more money for food or transportation?
Because she's a single parent and she only works part-time. (employment/working conditions, gender)
But why doesn't she work more hours?
Because she can’t find affordable childcare for the whole day. (social environments, employment/working conditions)
Why doesn't she have a family member or friend help her out with childcare?
Because she hasn’t lived in the city for long and doesn’t know many people, her family all live in a smaller rural community outside the city. (social support networks)
But why did she move to the city?
Because there are not many jobs in her home community, the fish plant closed down and many of the shops are closing too. (social environments, employment/working conditions, physical environments)
But why did the fish plant close...?
Use Activity 2.1 to see all the ways food insecurity can affect your life. Activity 2.2 will help you identify problems and solutions using stories. These activities can be found at the top of the page. section 1
facilitators notes 2.1