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Food Insecurity in Canada
Food insecurity is “the disruption of food intake or eating patterns because of lack of money and other resources”.1 We can also define food insecurity as “not feeling secure about where one’s next meal is coming from.”
Food affects our daily lives, and food security is tied to everything. It is a critical problem and is growing significantly in our city, becoming more visible with the pandemic. The pandemic unveiled that many communities’ food access was impeded. According to Toronto Foundation’s Vital Signs report, 56 thousand more people are relying on food banks in 2021 in Toronto. 2
Almost one in seven Canadians live in a food-insecure household. Having children increases the ratio; Canadians living in families with children are more likely to be food insecure than people living without children. 3
So, why don’t we produce more food to solve the problem? This is the first question that may come to one’s mind.
And the answer is easy: Producing more food isn’t a solution. We already produce more than enough food. The issue is that food distribution is not as efficient as it should be. To encounter the problem of food insecurity, we need to question why its distributed unfairly.
Food insecurity is very complex, and it is difficult to cover the multitude of factors that cause its prevalence. It is linked to several factors, including income, employment, race/ethnicity, and disability4 , as well as social and gender inequality, policies, environmental issues.5 We can also name another apparent reason behind it: We waste food – A LOT. According to Second Harvest’s The Avoidable Crisis of Food Waste report, more than half of the food produced is lost or wasted.6 Additionally, “If food loss and waste were a country, it would be the third biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions,” says Inger Andersen, the United Nations Environment Program director. 7
Food waste is rampant throughout the food chain and occurs in many small and large ways from producers, distributors, and finally, in our homes. Another cause of food insecurity is the under usage of local resources. We grow food in this city! Hundreds of thousands of pounds of food are grown in urban gardens, including fruit trees. You may pass them while walking through the many public green spaces around the city, spotting a Serviceberry tree during the early summer months. Fruit trees are also prevalent in the backyards of many Torontonians. As our founder Laura Reinsborough stated in her Ted talk, “We live in an orchard – looks like a city” 8. Each year, approximately 1.5 million pounds of fruit grow in Toronto. And outside of our catchment area… most of the fruit, unfortunately, falls to waste without being harvested.
At this point, as Not Far from the Tree, we take action. Our volunteers collect the fruits in the backyards of Toronto houses and split them between the tree owner, our volunteers, and community partners such as food banks and shelters.
We are actively working to combat food waste from these precious fruit trees. And as many homeowners with fruit trees can attest to, they are abundant! Surpassing the tree owners’ needs, most fruit will be wasted without someone picking them. Also, unpicked fruits harm the trees by placing stress on the branches and even attracting animals and insects or causing the tree to develop a fungal attack. Fruit picking helps us reduce greenhouse gas emissions and our carbon footprint too.
As Not Far from the Tree, we focus on turning our city’s own resources into account instead of putting extra effort to create a new resource. We work on what we already have to support our communities in the city. Because we believe, focusing on collecting the local fruits brings a more significant return than depending on distant food sources.
We act against unequitable accessibility and reduce food waste by fruit picking and sharing with our partners. Our partners include shelters, food banks, and programs working to support clients encountering food insecurity in the city. Some of them may be familiar to you… community fridges. We not only donate fruit to our partner agencies but also pick and preserve the harvested fruit with them.
Fruit is costly and gets more expensive over time. Our goal is to make it possible for everyone in the city to have the privilege of reaching local organic fruits with the participation of everyone.
According to the results of our volunteer survey, launched in 2021, “access to fresh, locally sourced fruit” is the primary reason our pick team chose to volunteer with us. This data shows that reaching fresh and local fruit is a big issue, becoming the first reason volunteers choose us.
Our volunteers picked 32,048 pounds of fruit in 2021, and 15,198 pounds of it have been donated. Additionally, we donate fruit trees with our tree giveaway program and organize activities to encounter food insecurity…
Picking fruit from a local orchard benefits the environment by reducing the resources needed to obtain the food, too. We are not just learning about the environment and discovering the taste of fresh local fruits; we are renewing access to this source of fresh fruit while also sharing it with communities that need it most. Moreover, harvesting the fruit and sharing it with community members connect us with the city and the people!
People are facing food insecurity while we have enough food for all. Despite food being the most necessary need, we fail to make food security happen for all. We need to break this cycle.
Food insecurity is crucial. Food is vital. Food matters.
1 Nord M, Andrews M, Carlson S. Household food security in the United States, 2005 [Internet]. Washington: USDA Economic Research Service; 2005 [cited 2017 Nov 27]. Report No.: ERR-29. https://www.ers.usda.gov/webdocs/publications/45655/29206_err29_002.pdf?v=41334%20%5bPDF%20–%20880%20KB%5d
2 Toronto Foundation (2021). Toronto’s Vital Signs Report. https://torontofoundation.ca/vitalsigns2021/#trendsInToronto
3 Statistics Canada (June 24, 2020). Food insecurity during the COVID-19 pandemic. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/45-28-0001/2020001/article/00039-eng.htm
4 Food Insecurity (2014). Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-health/interventions-resources/food-insecurity
5 Food Security (n.d.). Action Against Hunger. https://actionagainsthunger.ca/program-areas/food-security/
6 Milbrath, S. (April 5, 2021). Restore our earth: The (avoidable) cost of food waste. Second Harvest. https://blog.secondharvest.ca/2021/04/05/restore-our-earth-the-avoidable-cost-of-food-waste/
7 United Nations Environment Program (2021). Food Waste Index, 2021). Food Waste Index Report 2021. Nairobi.
8 Tedx Talks. (Apr 27, 2013). Laura Reinsborough at TEDxToronto [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gt8F50o0TK4
The 2023 season is now closed