Across the country, food bank usage is rising, worsened by inflation and the aftershocks of the pandemic.
I have a question: What do you do when you’re hungry?
For some, this question is one with a relatively easy answer: I’ll take a peek inside my fridge or pantry and grab a snack or make a meal. There is no thought in this dance with hunger; it’s automatic, a daily performance we consistently must participate in. When we can’t—that is to say, our fridge/pantry is empty or has nothing we want—we’ll spend some time and money at the store. Then, we start the process again.
It's a simple, perhaps even fun, little ritual of trying new foods and satisfying cravings.
But for millions of Ontarians, dealing with hunger is not an easy ritual at all. Hunger is a stressor, one of many, and one they cannot afford to always address. In fact, according to Feed Ontario's Hunger Report, between April 1, 2021 and March 31, 2022, over 587,000 people accessed a food bank with visits topping over 4.3 million. In Ontario alone this marks a 15 percent increase from the year before, and the sixth consecutive year food bank usage has risen. And, in spite of these grim statistics, food prices and housing costs are continuously on the rise across the province, leaving many people struggling to make ends meet.
So, why is this happening?
Well, food insecurity is a multifaceted problem, really. We can start with the obvious: food prices are on the rise. We’ve all seen the viral Tweet of a $40 chicken (and if you haven’t, here it is and I’m sorry), but it’s not just meat. It’s produce, canned foods, bread, milk, eggs, and everything in between. Unfortunately, the cheapest options aren’t typically the healthiest either, but when people are torn between health and low costs, they are forced to pick low costs.
Another huge reason is a lack of sustainable job opportunities. People are getting paid pennies for stressful, intensive work that barely covers their rent plus food. More than ever people are getting a second job, as wages have not always risen to match the increasing costs of living.
Who is hurting the most?
While everyone is hurting (see $40 chicken above), food insecurity has always been a problem that disproportionately affects marginalised people. According to Daily Bread’s “Who’s Hungry” report for 2022, when it comes to food bank users, seven out of ten are racialized. This number extends to children, too: when it comes to child hunger, four out of five (81%) are racialized as well.
Additionally, individuals receiving social assistance face some of the most dire levels of food insecurity. For example, 38% of clients who receive ODSP (Ontario Disability Support Program) as their primary income reported being hungry at least once a day in the three months prior to Daily Bread’s report.
But what can we do? Is there anything we can do?
Ultimately, it’s very difficult to combat food insecurity on an individual level because the issue is so deeply rooted. Systemic change is needed, including:
Improving work quality and protecting employees through increased wages, supportive employment, and paid sick days/vacation.
ODSP is a necessary social security net for many Ontarians, and yet it is maxed out at $1,228 per month. With rent and food costs soaring—plus things like transportation costs, prescriptions, amenities—people are living in huge amounts of debt just to survive. This indicates to me that ODSP needs to rise, and more support is needed for struggling Ontarians.
In December 2022, CBC reported that the average Toronto rent had risen to $2,024 on average, up 12.4% from November 2021. Social, subsidised and affordable housing are crucial to helping people survive inflation.
On an individual level, donating to your local food bank is an easy way to support your community. And, when you do, ensure food is not expired and aim for healthier options when possible. Check on your neighbours, family, and friends when you can and support them if you can.
Overall, food insecurity is very difficult to describe in a short blog, and even more difficult to solve in one. The fact is, supporting people is a goal we should all strive to take a part in, big or small. We may not be able to shift whole systems, but we can do the little things.
Aangen works hard to fight food insecurity through our All Dried Up meals and supportive employment program, Chance for Change. If you would like to purchase ADU meals or make a donation to our cause, visit here. We appreciate your support!