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What you need to know about COVID-19: October 20, 2020
Nicola Moore recently released her first song, “The Arrow.” A singer-songwriter, peer advocate at the Hamilton Community Food Centre , and single mother of three children under nine, she’s made the most of any pandemic-induced “lulls” in her life by writing music.
“I could sit here and get Ontario Works payments or I could do something about it and change my life, which is what I’m trying to do right now,” says Moore. “Advocacy and singing are my way out.“
A first-time gardener on a community plot, Moore is ecstatic when describing her harvest: cucumbers, green beans, lettuce, squash, tomatoes, a variety of herbs and an abundance of kale. She’s also in the midst of a project at work, illustrating how to spin a can of chickpeas a multitude of ways so others — like herself — can transform the canned items they get on monthly trips to the food bank.
“Because I am them,” says Moore. “They are me.”
Prior to the pandemic, according to a report released by the non-profit Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC), an estimated 4.5 million Canadians experienced food insecurity. During COVID-19, that number has increased by 39 per cent; disproportionately affecting Black, Indigenous and northern communities. As a result of the strains of the pandemic, one in seven people — including Moore — is food insecure; unable to afford enough food, or worried about running out without the means to buy more.
On Oct. 16, World Food Day “is calling for global solidarity to help all populations, and especially the most vulnerable, to recover from the crisis, and to make food systems more resilient and robust so they can withstand increasing volatility and climate shocks, deliver affordable and sustainable healthy diets for all, and decent livelihoods for food system workers.”
In Canada, as the findings of the CFCC report reveal, this issue remains pertinent as ever.
“It infects my life. I want to say affects, but it’s both. It affects my life on a daily basis,” says Moore. Because of her advocacy work, she was compelled to open up about her experiences in Beyond Hunger: The Hidden Impacts of Food Insecurity in Canada , for which the CFCC surveyed 561 people living on low incomes across the country.
“I felt like my story should be shared because I’m not the only one going through this. But I find that lower-income people tend not to share what’s happening with them because of pride. Because of embarrassment. It’s not cool to say you’re poor. It’s not cool to sit with a bunch of people at lunch and you’re like, wow, I wish I could buy that but I can’t. ‘I’ll have the soup.’”
To meet her family’s needs each week, Moore plans carefully with her sights set on sticking to “a very tight budget” of between $120 and $140. With a baby just shy of two years old, roughly half of that is allotted to her specific needs (such as diapers), and $10 goes towards milk. “And then god forbid my son has a growth spurt and drinks the whole bag at one time, which he’s been known to do,” she says. “That is stressful for me and I have to put on a good face for them. I don’t want them to know I’m worrying about that.”
As the title of the report suggests, food insecurity is further-reaching than hunger. Rooted in poverty, it impacts health, severs relationships, impinges on happiness and a sense of self-worth, and chips away at employment opportunities, the CFCC found.
Eighty-one per cent of participants said food insecurity takes a toll on their physical health; 79 per cent said it impacts their mental health; 64 per cent said it erodes relationships; 59 per cent said it affects their kids; and 57 per cent said it makes it more difficult to find and keep a job.
“These are all key things that add up to people being pushed further to the margins and their lives being diminished — and frankly, the data shows, shortened as a result of being food insecure,” says Nick Saul, CEO of CFCC.
(Food insecurity) infects my life. I want to say affects, but it's both.
With people such as Moore talking openly about their experiences in the report, the non-profit hopes it will move people to take action by calling or writing their MPs. The human experience has the ability to drive home the issue in ways that statistics don’t. Numbers may fly by, says Saul, but stories hold you.
“First-person stories, whether you’re left, centre or right on the ideological or political pendulum, you can’t duck a story that is so clearly showing that people are working overtime to try and make ends meet for themselves and their families,” says Saul.
The reasons for food insecurity in Canada are many, according to the CFCC report: Low-wages and precarious jobs; low social assistance rates; rising cost of living; colonialism and systemic racism; and unaffordable food in the North.
Making sure everyone has a dignified place at the table should be number one.
Food insecurity is a holistic issue, says Saul; not the result of poor budgeting or individual foibles. Rather than falling back on the “moral release valve” of charity and donations — “Donations don’t cut it” — the report recommends creating an income floor people can’t fall below.
“Food won’t solve hunger. Income will,” says Saul. “If you frame the issue as hunger, you get food responses and you get charity. If you frame the issue as poverty, you get policy responses and you get the right to food. That’s where we need to be. It’s not about supply.”
In addition to establishing an income floor, CFCC recommendations include tracking food insecurity and setting targets to reduce it, and ensuring there’s “a race equity lens” put on all poverty and food-security policies to ensure those most impacted will benefit. “Making sure everyone has a dignified place at the table,” says Saul, “should be number one.”
For Moore, speaking out has lifted the stigma of food insecurity. “I don’t feel ashamed anymore. I used to feel embarrassed,” she says. “But I don’t want it to be a sad story — it’s an empowering story. I’m saying this so we can get policy changed. That’s why I’m talking.”
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2020