In North America we tend to focus on how food is grown and harvested -- organic, free range, cage-free, Marine Stewardship Council, fair trade, non-GMO, vegetarian-fed and locally grown among them. From a sustainability point of view, though, the most important question is missing from these labels: Will this food be eaten or will it end up contributing to the world's growing food-waste problem?
The Stop has been running a food bank for over 30 years. With help from students at the University of Toronto's School of Public Policy, we recently asked community members about our emergency response. We provide healthy food, but our monthly hampers last three days. We wanted to know what happens the other 27 days. Food insecurity is not an "emergency," but the predictable result of poverty, a slow-burning fire, affecting one in eight Canadian households. More than 30 years on, we refer to food banks as emergency response. Is that what we mean? Is it time to call out this dangerous misnomer and the inadequate national response it has fostered?
Ramadan is scheduled to commence later this week and I am not looking forward to it. The Islamic calendar is lunar based, so Ramadan shifts by approximately 10 days every year. Fasting during the winter months is easy with dawn being so late and sunset being so early. Fasting during the summer months is brutal -- dawn is currently at 3:45 a.m. and sunset is at 9 p.m.
While the right to food is a basic human right, food insecurity is a serious problem around the world. The global evidence is clear. Countries that make investments in agricultural development are better equipped to eliminate hunger, reduce rates of undernourishment and accelerate their economies. What's more, increased farm incomes stimulate employment both on farms and in the broader community. Further, the World Bank found that GDP growth originating from agricultural development is twice as effective in reducing poverty as GDP growth stemming from alternative industries.
The World Bank's ambitious goal to end poverty by 2030 requires large transformations in the global political economy so everyone has a chance for a better life. According to World Bank President, Jim Kim, defeating poverty requires a surmounting push from $131 billion dedicated to development, to a trillion dollars.
This past holiday season, food banks all across Ontario benefited from the generosity of their communities. Ontarians came together to donate food and financial support, both of which will make an enormous difference in the lives of people who struggle to make ends meet. Yet as the holiday lights and warmth fade and we head back into everyday life, we must not forget that this is not enough. In Ontario alone, it is estimated that 770,000 people visit food banks annually, and 20 per cent of food banks run out of supplies at least once every year. In a province that has more than enough food for everyone, why is this happening?
By nature, we are genetically programmed to eat whenever opportunity presents itself, presumably stemming from times when food was much scarcer than it is today. And although the "feast or famine" scenario is no longer as common as it used to be, our instinct for making the most of opportune encounters still exists and influences our behaviour.
As a 26-year-old business professional I face very typical problems on a day to day basis, ones that many of you may face. I have to deal with traffic, I have to find parking in downtown Toronto, I have to deal with deadlines. But it wasn't that long ago that any of these trivial issues were not a concern to me as my only burden was finding my next meal. For two years I battled homelessness and my hope was dependant on youth homes and the kindness of strangers.
The real news in the recent Hunger Count 2014 report is not that 841,191 people came to food banks for help in one month -- a number 25 per cent higher than in 2008. Nor is it the realization that close to 40 per cent of food bank recipients are children. No, the overarching narrative is how the presence of food banks in most communities has come to represent the failure of imagination for a country and its citizens.
It must be fall, bringing with it Thanksgiving. This October, however, more than 16,000 families in Ontario will have no other choice but to visit a food bank for the first time in their entire lives. And while the idea of turkey dinner with all the trimmings certainly sounds delicious, for over 375,000 adults and children, it is simply not the reality of the season.
The need for food support does not, however, stop with students under the age of 18. Post-secondary and recent university graduates are one of the fastest growing groups of food bank users across the province. With growing tuition rates, on campus living accommodations, and money for textbooks it's no surprise the wallets of students are being stretched to the limits.
This isn't just an American problem. Hundreds of thousands of Canadian children are growing up without enough. Low-income children, especially minorities and aboriginals, are growing up at an increased risk of preventable diseases -- diseases both classically medical and mental health related that arise as a result of their early living conditions and will affect us all. These numbers don't simply represent difficult childhoods; they mark a huge group of Canadians who are growing up without the supportive environments they need to develop into healthy adults.
At the provincial level, the Ontario Association of Food Banks strongly believes that the provincial government can and should take a more active role in tackling the root causes of hunger. This Hunger Awareness Week, ask yourself: who do you think uses food banks, and more importantly, why? Together, we can take a stand against hunger and poverty.
This month, the Ontario Association of Food Banks released their annual Hunger Report, highlighting the prevalence of food bank use and the need for emergency food services in this province. This past March, 375,789 Ontarians accessed a food bank. As you finish up your holiday shopping, please remember that there are so many Canadians going without this festive season.
This tax credit is groundbreaking for two reasons; the first of which being that farmers deserve, and need, a tax credit to help cover the costs of harvesting and transporting produce to food banks. Until this week, farmers donated thousands of pounds of fruits and vegetables out of sheer generosity to our provincial food bank network.
Food banks started in Canada many years ago as what is often described as a "band-aid solution" to the growing issue of hunger. Food banks were supposed to be temporary, local groups that fed the poor, while the government developed the official resolution to this societal problem. Unfortunately, this resolution was never found, and food banks are now a staple in each corner of Canada. Believe me when I say that food banks do not want to be in business. As a provincial association, a large part of our focus is on advocating on behalf of food banks and the clients that we serve. There is a reason that people are hungry, and it is not because of a lack of food in this country.