Food, like water, shelter, and education, is a basic need that every single person should be afforded regardless of socioeconomic status. Despite this, all over the world, including Canada, people struggle to meet these needs; their experiences of inequity are often denied or belittled. Food insecurity is an issue that has devastating impacts on people’s health and well-being.
This series on food insecurity aims to provide a snapshot and raise awareness about the state of food insecurity in London, focusing on both the stories of students at Western University, and the experiences of our local London community
Before we can begin to investigate food insecurity, it is important to understand this issue. For this reason, I want to debunk some common misconceptions about food insecurity.
Myth: Food Insecurity is an Issue of Hunger
People who are hungry are deprived of a key resource required to enable them to go about their lives. I spoke with Jennifer Martino and Robert Templeton at Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Center, to gain their perspectives as service providers in the busy Hamilton Road area of London. They explained that without adequate food, people are less equipped to deal with the ups and downs of life. For example, a hungry child may be distracted, or act out in school. The consequences of food insecurity over time are that people may not have the same opportunity to achieve in the ways their peers do. People may be excluded from everyday social life and may be worn down trying to cope with the stress that goes along with food insecurity. Being food insecure affects relationships and social connection, which are key for health and well-being.
The stress of not having basic security such as enough to eat is related to poor mental health, and can have enduring impact, negatively affecting almost every aspect of a person’s life. The effects can be especially detrimental for children, as living with high stress during the early years is shown to impact social, emotional, and physical development and educational attainment.
Food insecurity is a multilayered problem interlinked with other health and social issues. For example, people who are food insecure also tend to experience higher rates of infectious and non-communicable diseases, injuries, and premature mortality, and are often not able to afford treatments and medication required to manage their conditions. As a result, they often decide to forgo necessary medications because of the expense. Almost 50% of adults living in households with severe food-insecurity reported delaying, reducing, or skipping prescription medications due to cost. This phenomenon is one that is associated with both worsening health and greater use of healthcare services, costing the healthcare system 2.5 times more each year for care than care for food-secure adults.
The COVID-19 pandemic was a wake-up call for many as it exacerbated health and social issues typically hidden from the public view. One of these issues was food insecurity. More people in our community, from more walks of life, were forced to rely on social assistance and food banks to meet their basic needs.
Myth: Food Insecurity is not a Problem in London, Ontario
London is city of almost half a million people, and home to Western University, one of Canada’s most prestigious academic institutions, yet it is not immune from food insecurity. In fact, food insecurity is growing. The London Food Bank’s support to the community has nearly doubled since 2021, providing service to approximately 4000 families per month and 20,000 individuals through community networks. This reflects growing food insecurity across Canada, an indication that even wealthy countries are not immune. The Food Insecurity and Policy Research Unit’s (PROOF) website has a comprehensive report on household food insecurity in Canada.
Myth: Food Banks are the Primary Solution to Food Insecurity
Like many other cities, London’s primary response to food insecurity has been to create and sustain food banks and cupboards and encourage Londoners to donate. However, evidence has shown that this is not a long-term solution to this persistent social issue. Food insecurity is first and foremost an issue of policy choices that mean insufficient income for many Londoners, but solutions have emphasized charity through food banks, rather than policy remedies through, for example, adequate minimum wage. Although food banks have undeniably saved lives, ultimately, it is only a treatment of the symptoms of the problem, not a solution addressing root causes.
This brief video shows Glen Pearson, Director of London’s Food Bank, talk about “Tourniquets and Band-Aids”.
Most people who are struggling with food insecurity also do not see food banks as a solution preferring to ask for financial help from friends and family, miss bill payments, or sell their possessions rather than accessing a food bank. The reasons for this include shame and stigma, lack of easy access to a food bank, and inappropriate food options in that cultural or health needs might mean that the type of food available does not match what people require.
Given the scale of the issue of food insecurity in London and in Canada, food banks continue to expand services as the primary response, but this only perpetuates the problem, rather than acting at root causes.
Myth: If People Shopped More Wisely, they would Avoid Food Insecurity
There is a common assumption that food insecurity is associated with poor food skills such as ineffective grocery shopping and cooking practices.
However, this over-simplifies things. A Canadian study found that 84% of adults in food insecure households report shopping with a budget, compared to 43% of adults in food secure households. As well, self-reported cooking ability and recipe adjustment frequency is found to be the same in both food secure and insecure households. It is clear that food insecurity is not rooted in lack of food skills, or lack of effort to maintain a healthy but affordable lifestyle.
Find more information at: https://proof.utoronto.ca/resource/food-procurement-food-skills-food-insecurity/
Myth: Only Certain Groups of People Face Food Insecurity
During my time visiting Crouch Neighbourhood Resource Centre, I observed the long lines for food, with no guarantee of getting to the front of the line before meals ran out. A common stereotype is that food insecurity is an issue that only people experiencing homelessness or extreme poverty face. Stigmatizing attitudes such as blaming and shaming people for their situation stem from beliefs that people are simply lazy, unwilling to work and want to rely on social supports. However, complex health and social determinants interact at individual and systemic levels to create barriers for many people to access food. We see this in growing rates of food bank use among those who are employed, as they try to stretch inadequate incomes from pay cheque to pay cheque.
Many may not consider that university students –often presumed to have economic privilege – also live with food insecurity.
The next blog in this series will explore food insecurity issues that students are facing and consider why the issue is a matter of equity for all.
Written by Hooria Haider
This series was developed by Samantha Campanella and Hooria Haider, Western University Health Sciences Students, Community Engaged Learning placement with CRHESI. Christine Garinger, CRHESI Coordinator, edited the series.
 Men, F., Gundersen, C., Urquia, M. L., & Tarasuk, V. (2019). Prescription medication nonadherence associated with food insecurity: a population-based cross-sectional study. Canadian Medical Association Open Access Journal, 7(3), E590-E597.
 Huisken A, Orr SK, Tarasuk V. Adults’ food skills and use of gardens are not associated with household food insecurity in Canada. Can J Public Health. 2017 Mar 1;107(6):e526-e532. doi: 10.17269/cjph.107.5692. PMID: 28252370; PMCID: PMC697232