Money where your mouth is

Vancouver Coastal Health dietitian urges Squamish council to address income-related causes of food insecurity

 

When many people think of solving food insecurity, community gardens and communal kitchens are often the feel-good answer.

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But those initiatives aren't foundational solutions, according to public health dietitian Gerry Kasten, who presented to council on Tuesday.

The Vancouver Coastal Health official said the true solution is economic — and he's asking council to think along those lines, especially, he said, given that we live In a province where half a million people can't afford to eat healthily.

Food insecurity describes an inability to access healthy food due to financial constraints.

"What we need is advocacy around income because that will truly ameliorate food insecurity and build a healthier population," he said.

Kasten urged Squamish councillors to start making policy decisions that would focus on making food more affordable relative to a person's total purchasing power.

"It's not the price of food — it's poverty," he said. "And so this is the big issue. Not the cost of food overall, but rather the cost of food as a proportion of income."

Kasten asked council to consider bringing forth a motion that would address this issue to the Union of B.C. Municipalities.

He said the average monthly cost of a "basic healthy diet" for a family of four in the Sea to Sky region was $1,073 — which is slightly more than how much it would cost in the overall area Vancouver Coastal Health is in charge of.

In the VCH region, the price tag is $1,056.

The estimate is based on a basket of mainly non-processed foods such as fruits, vegetables, flour, and meats, with the occasional sweet, such as tea biscuits. It's a formula derived by the National Nutritious Food Basket, which is recognized by Health Canada.

There were no figures available that were specific only to Squamish.

Kasten also said that, on average, someone living in a family of four on income assistance in B.C. would have to spend 43 per cent of their cash on food if they wanted a healthy diet. This is assuming there are two income earners.

"Nobody has 43 per cent of their income to spend on food because they're spending it all on housing," he said.

Kasten said that it's best for the government to spend money on prevention early so that people don't have to suffer negative health consequences down the road.

For instance, he noted, people who are "food insecure" are more prone to chronic physical conditions as well as mental health issues.

Healthcare costs in food-insecure households are double that of homes who have ready access to healthy food.

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