Food banks are one of the primary responses that municipalities have to local hunger needs. Food bank use numbers across Canada have shown growth in recent years. The below infographic, published by Global News using data from Food Banks Canada, illustrates just what the changes in food bank use numbers have been in Canada from 2008-2014.

A closer look at food bank use numbers in Canada. Image by Global News.

All of the provinces and territories, except for Newfoundland and Labrador, have shown significant increases in the number of food bank users. These figures are notably higher in Nunavut, the Yukon and the Northwest Territories, where a combined 247% increase since 2008 has been reported. The prairies have also seen significant increases: Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba report around a 50% increase in the number of food bank clients.

When we look at the incredible need for emergency food centers that exist, one of the questions we have to ask ourselves is what can be done to reduce future reliance on food banks in Canada. In most areas, the problem with food insecurity does not have to do with regional scarcity of food; instead it has to do with distribution and availability of food. Income operates as a determinant for food access. In order to reduce food insecurity and reduce reliance on food banks, income-related policies need to be targeted. This includes policies that can increase minimum wage and social assistance rates to a level that makes it affordable to access food.

Factors contributing to household food insecurity vary region by region. In major urban areas, problems with food access are closely linked to rising cost of housing. A recent report published by the Daily Bread Food Bank, which operates in Toronto, stated that among food bank users surveyed, just $6.13 was left over per person per day after rent is paid. The same report found that 71% of participant income was spent on rent and utilities. It makes sense then, that areas that have a clear lack of affordable housing, and limited shelter allowance are also highly likely to be areas with high food insecurity.

Access to safe and nutritious food is essential for everyone’s well-being. A lack of access to safe and healthy food has especially serious implications for children. The role of good nutrition in healthy development is difficult to overstate. Malnutrition during the early years of life has been linked to negative performance in later years, including adulthood. This means that children who are unable to access nutritious foods face both short and long-term disadvantages compared to youth who have access to nutritious foods. When we consider that 37% of food bank users in Canada were children, it’s clear that food bank services are of critical importance to many struggling families out there.

Canada needs to invest more into preventing food insecurity. Household food insecurity in Canada is inextricably linked to policies surrounding income, the cost of housing and social assistance. Accordingly, when we’re talking about measures that can be taken to reduce food insecurity, the conversation needs to be about more than just funding for food bank services. Spreading awareness about how programs need to expand, and the link between the cost of housing and food insecurity is a step in the right direction.

Vineeth SekharanResearch AssistantYork University; Canadian Observatory on Homelessness/Homeless Hub