Regent Park is a low-income, culturally diverse neighbourhood located in the downtown east area of Toronto. Although Regent Park is undergoing transformation to a mixed-income and mixed-use community, there still remains a significant population of low-income families on a limited budget. To assist low-income families in the area, there are a number of food banks that operate in the area. Unfortunately, Regent Park is not alone and food banks have become institutions in low-income communities across Toronto.
In light of Black Lives Matter Movement, the Covid-19 Pandemic and a recent report that the demand of food banks is significantly raising, many are realizing the different ways racism and oppression has seeped into every corner of our communities. One way that this has manifested into our daily lives is through the issue of food insecurity.
Many Canadians suffer from a lack of fresh, nutritional food within their households. However, as food banks and soup kitchens already exist, many deem the problem to be solved. This is not the reality. In fact, ignorance of food inaccessibility is leading to the deterioration of people’s health, and lower income communities as a whole.
In a city like Toronto, fraught with so many expenses, it can be especially difficult to make ends meet. Here, the living wage is almost double the minimum wage. Therefore, necessities such as food are often brushed aside in order to pay rent. Or, rather, healthy food is brushed aside in favor of cheaper, quicker, less nutritional alternatives. This is the everyday reality of many living within lower income households. Though poverty is a nationwide issue, a collaboration between Foodshare (a not-for-profit dedicated to food justice) and PROOF (a Food Insecurity Policy Research Program) discovered that black households are 3.56 times more likely to be food insecure than white households. Furthemore, 1 in 3 black children are already living in food insecure households.
Experiencing this issue during one’s youth, a time especially meant for growth, can have lifelong effects. It hinders students from reaching their full potential, as one cannot focus on education with an empty stomach. It also leads to dangerous health conditions, such as malnutrition, asthma, and diabetes. Mental and emotional health is also at risk: Those experiencing food insecurity are proven to experience higher rates of anxiety and depression. This perpetuates a cycle, as those with poorer health are having a harder time recovering from these illnesses. They are also less likely to get the treatment necessary. If a household cannot afford to put food on the table, how are they going to afford additional health related bills? In a time of a pandemic, access to food can mean life or death.
The Government’s inability to foster lasting change for low-income households are quite literally starving Canadians. Although there is a system of food banks in place that offer relief for hungry Canadians, this does not solve the root cause of food insecurity, which is poverty. In fact, food banks were originally created in the 1980’s as a temporary response to a recession. It does not make sense as to why the Canadian government uses them as a crutch, instead of creating lasting change through social and economic reforms. It is the right of every Canadian to have access to dignified food. Therefore, it is cruel to expect Canadians and grocery stores to donate soon-to-be expired produce in order to aid the less privileged. A citizen’s opportunity to have dinner should not be dependent on a donation of leftovers. Though many volunteers and organizers graciously dedicate their time and efforts to services aiding the community, they should not be responsible for solving food insecurity altogether. This is merely the responsibility of the Canadian government.
Due to the recent rise in activism, more and more people are speaking up about the shortcomings within their communities. Services that provide temporary aid to lower income communities are no longer sufficient. The government’s ignorance of BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Colour) and lower income struggles are no longer acceptable. The government has the power to create a better life for all, and it is time that they use that power to solve problems corrupting communities throughout Canada.
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By Minerva Navasca
(Minerva is a summer journalist with
the FOCUS Media Arts Centre)