A holistic view of poverty
Yesterday, the city of Toronto released its interim report on a Poverty Reduction Strategy that looked at a number of top priorities and recommendations to reduce poverty in the City of Toronto.
“Torontonians, especially in many low-income communities, need better access to affordable, nutritious food.” – TO Prosperity Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy
As the report stated, access to healthy, nutritious food can be challenging, especially for those on low incomes. Food is a two-tier system, with food at restaurants, farmer’s markets and at grocery stores often being priced far out of range for most families in need. Hunger in Toronto is not about a lack of food, but a lack of income. People on low incomes, or coming to a food bank, simply don’t have enough money to purchase food – regardless of how close or far a grocery store or market might be.
10.2 – Ensure people on income assistance can afford healthy food
One of the points that Daily Bread’s submission to the community consultations made was that many issues around income security that drive food bank use are outside the scope of the city’s responsibility. Ontario Works and Ontario Disability Support Program, the two main income assistance programs that lock people in to poverty, are run by the province. However, the city can, and should, play a stronger, more visible role in advocating that these issues be addressed at both the provincial and federal level. If Toronto’s current mayor can get federal funding for a transit plan, surely there is an opportunity to bring other priority issues in to focus at other levels of government.
10.3 – Support food banks to improve the quality of their food stock, provide culturally specific food, and increase access and eligibility to food for people in need
Daily Bread provides food for over 200 food programs in over 140 community agencies across Toronto. It is a struggle to raise and distribute enough healthy and nutritious food for people coming to food banks. Even though over 40 per cent of the food Daily Bread provides is fresh (fruits, vegetables, yogurt, eggs, milk and meat), we are always striving for more. Providing nutritious food is about providing a healthy mix that people can choose from.
Many community and social service agencies, drop-ins and homeless shelters provide nutritious food programs in addition to many other programs that provide support in other areas. It’s why Daily Bread’s onsite food bank also provides information and referral services to address the poverty-related issues that are driving people to food banks in the first place. Providing healthy food is the first step, but to do that, food programs require both nutritious food and adequate space. Food programs are getting squeezed out and can’t compete with the money that developers can pay for space in Toronto. In addition, the network of social service programs, including food banks, have a hard time adapting quickly to the movement of poverty from the downtown core to the inner suburbs of Scarborough and Etobicoke.
While areas such as housing and improved income security programs are foundational to reducing poverty and hunger, the City could help increase food security for people with low incomes in three key areas:
- Helping increase the availability of space to run food banks, as the needed facilities to run programs such as food banks are disappearing;
- Making a granting process available for food banks that help capital and core funding requirements for essential equipment like large freezers, so nutritious, perishable food can be adequately stored; and,
- Through partnership with Toronto Public Health, helping to fund the bulk purchase of key dietary items that are seen as critical in order for households to have a nutritious diet, and distributed through the food bank network.
12.2 – Create clear policies that support the development of community kitchens, outdoor bake ovens, community cooking classes and other food-oriented activities that support social cohesion and food access, and create economic opportunities
Recent research from Valerie Tarasuk, a professor at the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Toronto, found that 5 per cent or less of low-income residents had accessed community kitchens and community gardens. While very important and worthy initiatives for other reasons, they have proven unable to meet the needs of Torontonians facing hunger on the scale that is required. That is why it is good to see that there is such a mix of opportunities presented here for Torontonians at all levels of income. Creating a vibrant city means having multiple options for people to participate, but ultimately hunger is about poverty and a lack of money to buy food.
To read the Food Security section of the City of Toronto’s interim report on a Poverty Reduction Strategy, please click here.