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Todd Whitcombe: The tragedy behind the need for food banks

In a country as affluent as Canada, how is it that we have so many people, children included, suffering from food insecurity?
Working with a client list that now numbers close to 3,000 people, the Salvation Army in Prince George is appealing to the public for food donations.

Last Friday, CBC held its 36th Annual Food Bank Day.

For 36 years, the folk at CBC Radio have felt the need to raise funds to support food banks across the province. The total, as I write this, has reached just shy of $1.8 million. A hearty thanks to all who have donated. And since the donation website is still open, perhaps the total will climb even higher.

But the fact it has been an annual event for 36 years and food banks have become a part of our ongoing reality is a sad statement about Canadian society. In a country as affluent as Canada, how is it that we have so many people, children included, suffering from food insecurity?

The most recent Statistics Canada data puts the number at around 5.8 million Canadians with 1.4 million being children, in the ten provinces, or about 15.9 per cent of the population or one in every six of us.

That is a lot of people.

Statistics Canada does break down the definition of food insecurity into three categories. Marginal food insecurity is set at the level where a family worries about running out of food and/or have limited food choices due to a lack of money. Moderate food insecurity is when there is a compromise in quality and/or quantity of food. Severe food insecurity results in missed meals, reduced food intake, and, at its most extreme, going day(s) without any food at all.

According to the data, 4.2 per cent or 1.62 million Canadians fall into the “severe” category. And because of the way the statistics are collected, this does not include those amongst who are unhoused. If that data was included, the number would be higher.

In B.C., 3.2 per cent of the population experience severe food insecurity – roughly 171,000 people. That certainly explains the need for food banks and an Annual Food Bank Day on the CBC. But in a country where upwards of 30 per cent of the food goes to waste, you can’t help but ask “what is wrong with the system?”

There are no easy answers, though. Just kind and good people willing to donate to their fellow human beings at this or any time of the year. If you can, please do so. 

Todd Whitcombe is a chemistry professor at the University of Northern B.C.

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