John Farrow introduced our guest speaker, Dr. Elaine Power, Department of Gender Studies, Queen’s University. Elaine's research areas are poverty, gender, equality, and how this all relates to food insecurity.  John was searching for a speaker leading up to International Women's Day, and Dr. Power's research seemed a good fit for presenting to our club.
Elaine Power
Dr. Power is actually part of the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies, and has only recently been chosen to also head up Gender Studies.  In the School of K and H Studies, she taught a course on the social determinants of health.  This has led to her current research.
Elaine reminded us that our area is part of the “Dish With One Spoon Territory” - a wonderful metaphor that speaks of an Aboriginal treaty with the dish representing the earth and the spoon representing peace.
What is Food Insecurity? How is it measured?  What strategies do people use to deal with it?  And what should we, who don't experience it, do to help?  At it core, food insecurity is the feeling on not having sufficient money to be able to feed yourself or your family—not having enough money closely is connected with insufficient food, with serious health and welfare consequences. Food Insecurity is measured at household level, but experienced at the individual level, which is where gender enters the picture.  Women will do almost anything to protect their children from hunger and will also sacrifice for their male partners in the same way.
Food insecurity is measured country wide, but unfortunately not consistently. Provinces can opt out in Federal measurements of the issue, which means incomplete data to help analyze the problem. Surveys show there are 3 levels of food insecurity.
  1. (marginal) worried about running out of food or having to buy poor food.
  2. (moderate) compromised quality or quantity
  3. (severe) going hungry, skipping meals
Elaine has also done recent research on Queen’s students experiencing food insecurity, which she described as heartbreaking, shocking, and it kept her up nights thinking about the issue.
Surveys are conducted with target groups - there are different questions for adult and child surveys, and these questions are based over the experiences of the past year. The questions were developed out of focus groups with low-income families in the U.S.
Data for Canada. 2012 was last national study, analysis from 2014.
  • about 12%, 1 in 8 households are affected by food insecurity, about 4 million Canadians, 1 in 6 kids.  We expect a lowering of the numbers due to increases to the Child Tax Benefit, but are waiting on the newest results.  We also know the data are lower than the reality because Indigenous peoples on reserves, the homeless, and other marginalized groups are not counted.  The highest rates of food insecurity are in Nunavuut (46.8%), and the lowest is in Saskatchewan (10.6%). In 2015 Ontario opted out, which skews data for whole country.
  • Households most likely to be affected by food insecurity; those on social assistance, Aboriginal households off reserve; families with a black head of household (yes, in Canada); single moms with kids; new Canadians; those that don't own a home
  • Low income rates for senior families and unattached individuals, through Guaranteed Income Supplement, fell from high in mid-70s of 35% to under 5%.  This helped seniors with pension benefits fall into the group least likely to experience food insecurity.
  • The link between food insecurity and health care costs is strong - average health care costs rise dramatically as food insecurity increases, especially physician expenses and cost of prescriptions.
  • In Kingston, about 15% of households are food insecure, about the same as considered living in poverty.
Elaine showed how much money is left after rent is paid for those on Ontario Works, Full Time Minimum Wage, and Median Ontario Income. If your are on social assistance, it is almost impossible to pay the rent and buy decent food. Considered family of four and single person.  Those on Ontario Works in Kingston actually can't even come close to the amount needed for food.
Adding to the depth of her research, Elaine talked about the strategies people that experience food insecurity use to cope;
  • using coupons, returning bottles
  • odd jobs
  • juggling and postponing bill payments,
  • borrowing money
  • selling possessions
  • buying food on credit
  • shopping at discount stores
  • calculating costs in the grocery store
  • buying grocery store gift cards when $ are available
Also used are food strategies liking recipe stretching, cutting portion sizes or food groups, and as mentioned, women giving up food to make sure their children are fed.
Elaine also showed us discussion notes from focus group of seniors who are coping with food insecurity. Many of these seniors had health problems, and coped with not enough food be sleeping more, drinking more water or tea, or smoking.  These quotes really brought a more human face to the issue.
What should society do?
First off food banks are ineffective. Only 20% go to them and they aren’t enough.  People who use food banks just stay food insecure.  Increased income and secure employment are what is needed.  The only effective response will be an effective poverty elimination strategy.
After several questions Murray thanked our speaker. His mother lived through Depression. She made sure her children ate, and taught her kids to budget. Murray noted that 50% of kids in north end of Kingston go without breakfast. Our club is working on these issues and maybe we can work together.