Tag Archives: emergency food

Are food banks an effective response to addressing food insecurity and poverty?

Guest blog from Kathy Dobson

When food banks started in Canada as an emergency and temporary measure in response to the economic recession in the 80s, they were intended to provide relief from immediate hunger as an emergency food source, not address food insecurity or poverty. Yet these so-called ‘temporary’ food charity providers are on the increase in Canada.

A panel discussion surrounding issues of poverty and food insecurity, ‘From Hunger to Health’ was recently held in Ottawa, as part of the second annual Spur festival. The discussion explored some of the root causes – and potential solutions – to the 75,000 people in Ottawa who go hungry each day.

Panel member Dr. Elaine Power, an associate professor in the School of Kinesiology & Health Studies at Queen’s University, said outright that Food banks aren’t working. “Only 20 to 30 percent of food insecure households ever go to food banks.” One of the problems with food banks, explained Power, is that they provide a comforting illusion of people not being hungry.

“Food banks show that we care,” said Power, “but they have never gone away, though they were never intended to be permanent.” The danger, said Power, is that food banks can give us a false sense of having dealt with the issue of hungry Canadians. “We forget about hunger because we think food banks are solving the problem.”

Moderator Karen Secord, manager of Parkdale Food Centre in Ottawa, said food banks are always going to be needed, though, including the 29 in Ottawa alone, until we finally solve the issue of poverty in Canada. “If people don’t have an income,” said Secord, “then the need for food banks is going to continue.”

However, not everyone on the panel seemed to recognize and acknowledge the full extent and real threat of going hungry in Canada.

Panelist Dr. Pierre Desrochers, an associate professor of geography at the University of Toronto, claimed that poverty has not only decreased over the past few generations, he also suggested what he seemed to view as an obvious and simple solution to poverty in Canada.

“In my opinion the best anti-poverty issue is a job,” said Desrochers. “We should focus on programs of job creation and build from there.”

Despite some murmurs of surprise and disapproval from several members of the audience in response to Desrochers’s ‘best anti-poverty’ solution, he continued on, claiming that, “Humanity has done more to lift people out of poverty in the last generation than ever before,” and that it used to be “historically that it was the king and a few people who could afford a decent meal.” In addition to job creation, Desrochers also suggested lowering the price of food would make it more easily available to those in need.

Power received an enthusiastic round of applause when she countered with, “The issue for the millions of people in this country is not the price of food, it’s not having enough money.”

Kathy Dobson (left) in conversation with Elaine Power (right) and another attendee at the Hunger to Health event in Ottawa

Kathy Dobson (left) in conversation with Elaine Power (right) and another attendee at the Hunger to Health event in Ottawa

“There is dignity in being able to chose the food you eat and what to feed your family,” added panel member Kaitrin Doll, an anti-poverty community engagement worker at the Coalition of Community Health and Resource Centres.

In addition to dignity, regular access to nutritional food is also an important health issue. Powers said food insecurity is a leading cause of significantly increased health care costs as well. “The poorer you are, the shorter your life, the unhealthier you are. Poor people die sooner than wealthier people.”

Power said she has a dream for Canada.

“One where we value the common humanity of all and ensure that everyone has what they need to live a socially acceptable life,” said Power. “Right now we don’t have that.”


Kathy Dobson is a journalist, author, and a doctoral student in the Communication Studies program at Carleton University. You can learn more about her work at http://kathydobson.ca/

Beyond Emergency Food

Thoughts from both sides of the border

Upcoming webinar Pod-Cast:

Wednesday, December 11, 2013 12-1 p.m. EST

Join Community Food Centres Canada for a webinar Pod-cast with Jessica Powers from the U.S. organization WhyHunger on the work they do to support emergency food providers to go beyond charitable food access programs and create initiatives that foster a more inclusive and sustainable food system. The webinar will cover key principles underlying this work, drivers for transforming organizations, redefining relationships with funders, inspiring examples of change, useful resources and more.

Read more

When: Wednesday December 11, 2013 from 12 to 1 p.m. EST
Where: Your Computer – Register Here! – https://cfccanada.webex.com/
How Much: Free!
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Ross Curtner at ross@cfccanada.ca.

Farm to Fork

Guest blog:The Farm To Fork logo

To most of us, $1500 is a lot of money. Perhaps it represents an all-inclusive vacation, a new laptop, much needed car repairs, or a portion of tuition. Whatever it represents, if $1500 were placed on the table in front of us, it’s unlikely that any one of us would simply pick it up and throw it in the garbage.

And yet thanks to food waste, throwing away large sums of money is what the average Canadian household does. Think about that. Every month, your household tosses about $125 worth of food into the garbage.

What makes this number all the more concerning is that 850 thousand Canadians still need to visit some form of food security service every month. That’s about 1 in 40 Canadians – possibly someone in your neighbourhood.

Obviously there is a disconnect. How can we have so much that we’re willing to throw $125 away every month, while at the same time people in our neighbourhoods struggle to put together a nutritious meal for their family?

Last year, Dr. Daniel Gillis[1] and Danny Williamson[2] partnered with Linda Hawkins[3], the Guelph Wellington Food Access Working Group, and the Guelph Food Round Table, to explore the disconnect between abundance and need. It quickly became obvious that the issue wasn’t due to a lack of willingness to help, it was a lack of communication; donors were unaware of what they could donate, when they could donate, or where they could donate.

Dr. Daniel Gillis, PhD Statistics, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science, University of Guelph, Co-founder of the Farm To Fork project

Dr. Daniel Gillis, PhD Statistics, Assistant Professor in the School of Computer Science, University of Guelph, Co-founder of the Farm To Fork project

To address this issue, Gillis and Williamson founded the Farm To Fork project. The goal – increase the quality and quantity of donations by connecting donors directly with the needs of the emergency food service providers. In September, they presented the concept to Gillis’ third year School of Computer Science class at the University of Guelph. Over the course of the fall semester, 30 passionate undergraduate students moved the project from idea to working prototype.

Some of the 30 designers of the Farm To Fork website

Some of the 30 designers of the Farm To Fork website

Since January, Lee-Jay Cluskey-Belanger, and Benjamin Katznelson – members of the original Farm To Fork class – have been working to finalize the prototype. The system will allow any emergency food provider the ability to create a grocery list of needs, including fresh produce, non-perishable, or non-food items. Donors will be able to log into the system, identify a nearby pantry (for example), browse their grocery list, and select which items they’d be willing to donate. The system will also send an email reminder on the day the donor has identified as their typical grocery day.

But before the Farm To Fork solution can be launched, it has to be beta tested to ensure that it functions properly. This means hiring several students from the original Farm To Fork class. To cover the expenses associated with beta testing, the Farm To Fork team is trying to raise $15000 through the Microryza crowdfunding platform. The campaign ends May 19th. If you want to help support the Farm To Fork project, please consider donating (https://www.microryza.com/projects/farm-to-fork).


For more information, follow Farm To Fork on Twitter (@Farm_2_Fork), like us on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/FarmToForkGuelph), of follow our blog (http://farmtoforkguelph.wordpress.com/).

[1] Assistant Professor and Statistician, co-founder of the Farm To Fork Project, School of Computer Science, University of Guelph.

[2] Consultant, and co-founder of the Farm To Fork Project.

[3] Director of the Institute for Community Engaged Scholarship, University of Guelph