By: Haiat Iman, Research and Survey Coordinator
After Daily Bread Food Bank released the 2016 Who’s Hungry report, Daily Bread held informal focus groups with food bank clients. This two-part series describes clients’ day-to-day experience of food insecurity and their survival strategies. Read the second blog post in this series here.
“If you don’t have cooking facilities or can’t use your kitchen for whatever reason, you only buy foods that you can store in your room.” – Food bank client
In their article “The “Welfare Diet” 20 years later: The growing nutrition crisis for Ontario’s poorest people” co-authors John Stapleton, a board member of Daily Bread, and Jamille Clarke-Darshanand present various theories that explain why people on low income don’t have healthier diets.
One factor is having access to what Stapleton calls the Big Four: storage, cooking, refrigeration and freezing facilities. The presence or absence of the Big Four affect the food that people on low incomes can regularly – and safely – eat.
What if you don’t have food storage?
Daily Bread Food Bank’s focus group participants reported that in homes where kitchens are shared (such as rooming houses or subsidized housing), appliances and food are at risk of being stolen, so tenants keep food in their rooms. This not only limits how much they can keep and refrigerate at one time, but also dictates what they are able to bring home from the food bank or the grocery store.
What if you don’t have anywhere to cook?
Focus group participants who have nowhere to heat up food report that they will drink a can of soup cold. Some clients also reported that they don’t buy or take home canned foods such as soups or tuna from the grocery stores or food banks because they do not own or have access to a can opener.
What if you don’t have reliable refrigeration and freezing facilities?
One client who lives in a rooming house reported that he doesn’t use the kitchen to store or cook his food. Instead, he uses a mini bar fridge which he keeps in his room, and shops for items that he knows he can fit into it. The bar fridge also didn’t keep milk cold enough so it went bad quickly. Currently, he has access to a freezer so he buys three bags of milk, and stores two in the freezer, so if one bag of milk goes bad, it’s only a partial loss. A smaller carton of milk would fit in his fridge but is less economical.
Without access to proper refrigeration facilities he isn’t able to purchase fresh produce, and he is limited in how much food he can buy due to the limited space in his fridge. He chooses to purchase foods that don’t require refrigeration, stocking up on canned soup because it is easy to store and prepare. He heats it up on a hot plate which he also keeps in his room.
“Without secure housing, there is nowhere to store food safely and protect it from theft. In public housing, appliances break down regularly and take a long time to get fixed. Hydro costs are very high, and are often exacerbated by monthly interest on unpaid bills. Without access to the big four, it is difficult for the poor to consume a healthy diet.“