For the last 40 years, we've been sold a lie about how to solve hunger. It's the kind of deception that sounds so right, so convincing, that we don't even ask questions. We've been told that handing out food to poor, struggling people will fill their need and end their hunger. And yet nothing could be further from the truth.
In 1993, a single person on social assistance would receive $962 in today's dollars. The poverty gap (the difference between total income and the low-income measure) was 20 per cent. Today, that single person on Ontario Works (OW) only receives $681 and experiences a poverty gap of a startling 59 per cent.
The fact that food is discarded because we "have too much" or because it doesn't look right, or enough wasn't sold and it can be thrown away without a second thought goes to show that this food management program is not working right. We as a society need to learn the importance of eating locally and seasonally.
Public awareness of food waste is currently at an all-time high. Every day seems to bring news of entrepreneurs, researchers and experts who are talking about wasted food and food rescue. All of this attention makes Second Harvest's Executive Director Debra Lawson hopeful that awareness will translate to action.
In 2017, the Ontario Association of Food Banks (OAFB) will turn 25 years old. We are deeply proud of the role our network has played over the past quarter century to support communities across Ontario. Food banks have grown from being a resource for emergency food support to multi-service centres that offer innovative programs to help clients move beyond hard times.
In 2015, Ontario saw a 35% jump in the number of senior citizens visiting food banks. It's a trend Second Harvest sees daily on its delivery routes. Last year, 70% of Second Harvest's agency partners noted that they serve seniors. Some agency partners, like Loyola Arrupe Centre for Seniors (LACS), are built specifically around servicing the needs of this growing and vulnerable population.
Looking at the food system in Canada is a study in contrasts. On one hand, one in eight Canadian families struggle to put food on the table, and over 800,000 people visit a food bank each month. On the other hand, we waste $31 billion in food each year, or a third of what we produce. How can a country with so much abundance also have such great need? As with any problem that is so enormous in scale, the reasons are complex, the impacts are wide-ranging, and the solutions are far from easy.
While the old adage tells us to waste not and want not, all too often surplus food ends up uneaten. Canada's mounting amount of wasted food is costing consumers and cutting into the country's overall economy output. Canada's economy is losing the equivalent of two per cent of its entire GDP each year to food waste.
It seems like a marriage made in heaven. Eliminate the vast amount of food waste in our society by giving it to the poor and hungry. No more hunger. No more waste. At least that's what advocates for food-waste-to-the-poor schemes will have us believe. Here at home, MP Ruth-Ellen Brosseau's private member's bill, C-231, Fight Against Food Waste Act, will continue being debated in the House of Commons in the coming weeks. But this is a relationship doomed before it even begins.
As a society, we established a system of social welfare programs because we wanted to take better care of each other and ensure that everyone had access to basic needs, even during hard times. It was an effort to get a little bit closer to that perfect world. On Monday, a new report was released by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives that demonstrates the gap between where we currently are and our vision of where we'd like to be.
In the territories, nearly one in five households has trouble getting enough food to eat. In Nunavut, this figure rises to half of all households -- a truly staggering number. This situation is the result of many factors, including the high cost of food and very high rates of poverty, particularly within indigenous communities. The effects of the residential school trauma, decreasing access to traditional foods, and the high cost of hunting add complexity to the problem.
Canada is dealing with an obesity challenge. At the moment, one in four adults and one in ten children are defined as being obese. One might believe the answer to obesity is simply to eat less and exercise more. Yet, over the last few decades, researchers have learned this condition is far more complex than initially believed.
As the job market continues to contort and contract through the shifting of jobs, wages, and stability -- there is a growing voice, a growing question -- how do we make sure people across this province have the means to eat, to live, to thrive? How can we ensure that Ontarians are able to meet their most basic needs?
Canada's largest city has a world-class problem with poverty, and yet we hope that maybe, just maybe, it will go away. Rest assured it's not. Far from an old-school approach to budgeting, we need leadership and new approaches to revenue generation unless we want to be paying for the growing costs of poverty for years to come.
When organizations like Heart for Africa and Egg Farmers of Canada work with local farmers, the diets and well-being of the local population greatly improve. Establishing a local, sustainable source of eggs is the perfect way to ensure protein and vitamins are incorporated into the diet of vulnerable and disadvantaged children and adults living in developing countries.