All posts by Jennifer Foden

Jen Foden is the editor of FoodNetwork.ca. Previously, she was the editor of HGTV.ca. She has written about food, social justice, the environment, design and travel for publications like CBC, National Post, Canadian Living and more. She loves playing sports and riding her bike around Toronto and Vancouver.
Person wearing rubber gloves holding veggies at grocery store

Food Insecurity During COVID-19 Linked to Poor Mental Health, According to Statistics Canada

In a new report released by Statistics Canada on Wednesday, Canadians who were worried about having enough food during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic this spring were more likely to view their mental health as poor compared to those who were not.

“Food insecurity in itself can be a stressful experience,” said Heather Gilmour, Statistics Canada analyst and report co-author. “So associated with that can be feelings of frustration or powerlessness or even shame — and those kinds of feelings could trigger existing psychological problems or amplify existing ones or trigger new ones.”

Person wearing rubber gloves holding veggies at grocery store

Related: What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

The Statistics Canada report said 14.6 per cent of the respondents to the May 2020 survey experienced food insecurity within the previous 30 days. One in five survey respondents to the survey also perceived their mental health as fair or poor or reported moderate or severe anxiety symptoms.

“We did find that, yes, food insecurity was associated with higher odds or higher risk of having either anxiety symptoms or poor self-recorded mental health,” Gilmour said. “That seemed to increase, that risk increased, the greater the food insecurity that people experienced.”

Related: Best and Worst Foods for Your Mental Health and Wellness

According to Statistics Canada, this study is the first to examine the link between food insecurity and self-perceived mental health symptoms among Canadians during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Photo courtesy of Getty Images

What is Food Insecurity? FoodShare’s Paul Taylor Explains (Plus What Canadians Can Do About It)

If you want to know what food insecurity is, Paul Taylor is the man to answer that question. He is the executive director of FoodShare, a Toronto-based non-profit that advocates that everyone have access to affordable, fresh and nutritious food. His personal experience has informed his life’s work: he was raised by a single mother on Ontario’s welfare system. He has worked as a teacher, in a Toronto homeless youth shelter and the Downtown Eastside in Vancouver. We chatted with Paul about what food insecurity is, the link between racism and food insecurity and how Canadians can take action.

What is food insecurity? And what does FoodShare do to work toward making change?

Food insecurity is inconsistent or uncertain access to food due to financial constraints. There are 4.4 million people living in food insecure households in Canada. It’s a problem that is only getting worse. Since the 1980s, Canada’s default response to food insecurity has been food banking and food-based charity. Instead of dealing with this growing public health crisis, a number of politicians seem to prefer photo-ops of sorting food at food charities, instead of sorting the policies that allow households to experience food insecurity.

At FoodShare, we recognize that we can’t position our work as a solution to wicked problems like food insecurity or poverty. FoodShare’s work includes working with communities across the city of Toronto to co-create community-led food assets, such as urban farms and fresh produce markets, but our work cannot solve food insecurity. We publicly acknowledge that reality, while also recognizing the potential impact that public policy can have on food insecurity. Disappointed with the provincial government’s decision to roll back the planned increase to minimum wage, FoodShare openly challenged the Premier to live on $14/hour for the remainder of his term. More and more food charities recognize the limited role that we can play in challenging food insecurity, so we continue to advocate for a political commitment followed by a public policy approach to address this crisis.

Can you explain the link between racism and food insecurity?

The research that we conducted in partnership with PROOF, an interdisciplinary research group, looks at food insecurity in Canada. We found that anti-Black racism had much more of an impact on who gets to eat than we had imagined.

To be Black in Canada means that you’re 3.5 times more likely to live in a food insecure household than if you’re white. We also found that while 12% of white children live in food insecure households, that skyrockets to 36% for Black children.

We also looked at home ownership, which has generally been understood to correlate with lower levels of food insecurity. Unfortunately, this is only true for white households. The percentage of Black homeowners experiencing food insecurity (14.5%) is almost equal to the percentage of white renters who experience food insecurity (14.3%).

The ubiquity of anti-Black racism doesn’t end there. When it comes to immigration status, it doesn’t matter if Black people are born in Canada or abroad — the risk of food insecurity remains consistently high.

Aggregate food insecurity statistics suggest that single parent households are more likely to experience food insecurity, but for Black households it doesn’t matter how many parents are in the home, there remains a significantly higher probability of food insecurity.

Related: 10 Facts That Will Shock You About Racial Injustice in Canada

How has food insecurity been impacted by COVID?

Physical distancing and other restrictions brought on by the pandemic meant that people needed to take fewer trips to the grocery store and began to stockpile food and toilet paper. Doing this was near impossible for those who were already food insecure. As the pandemic went on, we saw unprecedented job losses. All of these people suddenly had to figure out how they were going to afford to pay for rent and food.

At FoodShare we immediately pivoted so that we could deliver free Emergency Good Food Boxes filled with fresh produce to households across the city. We provided a $4/hour increase and additional paid sick days to all of the FoodShare staff involved in our pandemic response. We quickly partnered with 80 community-based groups to help identify people that were especially vulnerable. The free Good Food Boxes are being delivered to undocumented workers, survival sex workers and other individuals made vulnerable by our current system. So far we’ve provided over 26,000 free Good Food Boxes.

What is the biggest misconception people often make about food insecurity in our country?

Food insecurity will not be solved by casseroles made in community kitchens, the repurposing of two-legged carrots, donated cranberry sauce or even the current government approach of hopes and prayers. Food insecurity is an income issue that requires income based interventions. 62% of Canadians living in food insecure households derive their income from paid employment, which means that their jobs don’t lift them out of food insecurity, but instead trap them in it.

How can Canadians take action? How can we help?

You can donate (www.foodshare.net), order a Good Food Box online (it’ll be delivered straight to your home) and get involved in $15 and Fairness. We need to remind our elected officials that we have the right to food in Canada — and that it’s long overdue for food insecurity to be something that we talk about in our history books.

Related: Ranking Canadian Retailers Offering Grocery Delivery Right Now, by Price

What is one of your favourite things you’ve cooked from your Good Food Box delivery?

I’ve signed up for a weekly subscription of the Good Food Box and I’ve added on the whole-wheat sourdough bread and the organic fair trade coffee that we sell. My breakfasts are usually 100% inspired by the Good Food Box. Most recently I’ve been enjoying my oven-roasted tofu sandwich. I marinate the tofu for 24 hours in some Frank’s Hot Sauce, olive oil and smoked paprika. I roast it for 20 minutes and then throw it on some sourdough bread with sliced cucumbers, mayo, a slice of tomato and then stuff it with the living pea shoots that came in this week’s box. On the side, I chop up fresh carrot sticks and celery.

Related: 35 Sweet and Savoury Tofu Recipes for Every Meal

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Photo of Paul Taylor courtesy of Daniel Neuhaus; remaining photos courtesy of FoodShare