Poverty Bites Us All: We Want Zero Hunger in Canada

We have invited guest blogger, Niki Black, to share some of the pressing food issues highlighted in the Eat Think Vote campaign, led by Food Secure Canada and others across Canada, in advance of the federal election on October 19, 2015. This week, Niki challenges our assumptions of what’s possible and delves into the issue of food insecurity, caused by a range of factors, the most significant of which is low income. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for more on food and the federal election.

 

Hunger. The word denotes a lack, and Canada has a glaring one indeed – we lack a national food policy. This hurts every one of us, and we cannot drive effective change without the unifying strength of federal policy. The Eat Think Vote campaign aims to make food security an election issue. To end hunger we must end poverty, which is one of the largest obstacles to zero hunger yet also, not such a daunting task to fix as one might think. The answer lies in numbers.

Today, 4 million Canadians are food insecure, but the true number is likely much higher. Anyone without reliable access to adequate nutritious food falls into this category, and although the statistics vary as do the issues across our vast country, we all feel the creeping effects. Tax dollars are spent on the symptoms of poverty, including a rapidly-building healthcare crisis, a sputtering economy, and a culture of blame for this systemic failure imposed on some of our most vulnerable through a welfare system that keeps people in poverty when it should be raising them up. How much cheaper could it be to provide an income floor? Eat Think Vote demands that our new government explore the feasibility of a basic income guarantee for every Canadian.

No one likes to admit that they must skip meals, or are forced to choose the empty calories of junk food because nourishing foods are inaccessible. Hunger is an unsettling subject, and often stays hidden due to stigma. To truly heal food insecurity and all the ugliness it entails, we must address the systemic causes. Canada is a signatory of the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, yet we lack the policy tools to uphold our commitment. Now that’s embarrassing. The absence of a unified food policy is a fundamental national failure, one that gnaws at our society and all the ways it could strengthen and grow. Access to adequate nutritious food is a basic human right – we have the ability to ensure this, we just need the leadership. It’s time our governments took a keen interest in the cupboards of the nation.

A past experiment in Dauphin, Manitoba with the “Mincome” in the 1970’s, and another coming up in Utrecht, NL, are small-scale road tests of the basic income guarantee. Today, the idea has returned to gain steam here in Canada. In Alberta, two influential mayors have expressed interest in basic income programs for Calgary and Edmonton and just recently, the Canadian Medical Association tabled the idea  at their Annual General Meeting right here in Halifax. A basic income guarantee is only one solution, and has not yet been tried in conjunction with another, the living wage – where employers take a dynamic interest in the local cost of living and pay their staff accordingly. Between these two, there is much room for bold new ideas and collaboration.

To help, you can sign the petition, share on social media, host an event, or urge your chosen candidate to take action in Ottawa.  Through the Eat Think Vote campaign, we have an opportunity to make poverty a priority issue. Let’s seize this moment. A government’s bottom line should be its nation’s people.

~Niki Black

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