All you need to know about Food Security
We all know what it’s like to feel hungry, and many of us never have to worry about finding something to eat to feel full.
Sadly, that ability to access food whenever it’s needed is not guaranteed to everyone. That’s why it’s so important to understand what food security is, and how we can help those who are food insecure. Not sure what these terms mean? Read on!
What is Food Security?
Food security is “the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”
What is Food Insecurity?
Food insecurity is when someone does not have physical or economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious needs.
The Five A’s of Food Security
The concept of food security can be looked at through the principles of the Five A’s:
- Availability: Sufficient food for all people at all times.
- Accessibility: Physical and economic access to food for all at all times.
- Adequacy: Access to food that is nutritious and safe, and produced in environmentally sustainable ways.
- Acceptability: Access to culturally acceptable food, which is produced and obtained in ways that do not compromise people’s dignity, self-respect or human rights.
- Agency: The policies and processes that enable the achievement of food security.
When one or more of these Five A’s are not met, then a person can fall into food insecurity.
Why Food Security is important
Food security goes beyond access to food. When people are food insecure, it can indicate that there is a lower quality of life for residents of a certain area.
Food deserts are areas that have limited access to not only nutritious but affordable foods, which corresponds to higher incidences of food insecurity. Areas experiencing a food desert will result in higher incidences of food insecurity for that population given the lack of access to food.
In addition, food insecurity negatively impacts an individual’s physical, mental, and social health, which is the ability to form meaningful relationships with others. With food insecurity comes a greater risk of obesity, diabetes, malnutrition and chronic illness. The lack of food goes beyond hunger and affects the holistic being of a person.
What causes food insecurity?
There isn’t only one contributing factor towards a person’s food insecurity. Below we break down the main reasons why someone both in Canada and around the world could experience food insecurity:
Household food insecurity is strongly linked to poverty in Canada. 70% of households who rely on social assistance in Canada are food insecure. But it also greatly affects a significant portion of the Canadian workforce. 60% of food-insecure households rely on wages and salaries as their main source of income.
Around the world, economic downturns often lead to a rise in unemployment and decline in wages, which negatively impacts one’s access to food. Access to nutritious foods can be affected as well as access to health and social services.
In remote communities where food deserts often reside, such as First Nations in Canada or other Indigenous communities, access to nutritious and high-quality food is lacking due to transportation costs and availability. The more removed a community is from access to food, the higher the cost of food and poorer quality.
Climate change brings an increase of greenhouse gases, flooding, and temperature changes that can make growing and accessing food challenging.
More than 500 million people today live in areas affected by land erosion and desertification linked to climate change. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) determined that
“evidence indicates that more frequent and more intense extreme weather events (droughts, heat and cold waves, heavy storms, floods), rising sea levels and increasing irregularities in seasonal rainfall patterns (including flooding) are already having immediate impacts on not only food production, but also food distribution infrastructure, incidence of food emergencies, livelihood assets and human health in both rural and urban areas.”
In Canada, Indigenous communities are hit the hardest when it comes to food insecurity. Learn more on why there is food insecurity in Canada and how Canada’s history of colonization has negatively impacted Indigenous diets.
Hunger and food insecurity
Food insecurity and hunger often get used interchangeably but they have very different meanings. “Hunger” refers to the physiological sensation of discomfort and pain that one experiences from not eating or a lack of food, while food insecurity refers to the actual barriers that might prevent one’s access to food.
If someone were to experience hunger for a long duration, then they have chronic hunger. The more food insecure a person is, the more likely they will experience chronic hunger.
According to the University of Toronto’s food insecurity policy research department, there are three levels of food insecurity:
- Marginal food insecurity: Worry about running out of food and/or limited food selection due to a lack of money for food
- Moderate food insecurity: Compromise in quality and/or quantity of food due to a lack of money for food.
- Severe food insecurity: Miss meals, reduce food intake, and at the most extreme go day(s) without food.
Food Security Programs
Here in Canada and around the world there are many food security programs that are working towards ending hunger and ensuring food security through skills training, policy and advocacy, or food distribution.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)
FAO is a specialized agency of the United Nations that leads international efforts to defeat hunger. Their goal is to achieve food security for all and make sure that people have regular access to enough high-quality food to lead active, healthy lives.
Canadian Feed The Children (CFTC)
CFTC helps to provide both in Canada and around the world community-led programs that will help families gain access to nutritious and culturally-appropriate food, learn to grow their own food and earn income to buy more food.
The World Bank
The World Bank provides a wide array of financial products and technical assistance to help countries share and apply innovative knowledge and solutions to the challenges they face, especially in the area of food security.
PROOF is an interdisciplinary research team through the University of Toronto investigating household food insecurity in Canada. The goal of this research program is to identify effective policy approaches to reduce household food insecurity.
What can I do to fix food insecurity?
We as individuals are able to make a difference for those living with food insecurity and hunger.
This is a complex problem requiring action at a governmental level, but you can start with small actions. For example:
Don’t buy more than you need at the grocery, and eat everything that you purchase to reduce food waste.
Write to your local representatives to let them know that you care about issues of food insecurity where you live and internationally.
You can also consider making a donation to support programs that promote food security here in Canada and around the world through Canadian Feed The Children.
Together we can make a difference!