Disclaimer: This blog post reflects the experiences of food bank users and not workers/volunteers. The experiences of workers/volunteers are beyond the scope of this blog post.
What is the solution to rising food costs? Food banks are often seen as the most viable option to feed hungry families. A recent report indicates that food bank access across Canada has risen by 124% in 2022 and is projected to increase further in 2023. Despite this skyrocketing access to food banks, a study published in 2020 indicates that many food-insecure households avoid food banks by any means possible and only a small portion of food-insecure households access food banks.
However, food banks still serve an essential purpose in preventing hunger for many families and are an important short-term solution to chronic and long-term food-security problems. Food banks were created in Canada in the 1980s to address the impacts of the recession and were meant to be a temporary solution to poverty and hunger. They have instead become a permanent fixture and go-to answer without the corresponding policy changes at provincial and federal levels to address the real source of food insecurity: inadequate income.
Usually run by dedicated volunteers, food banks display discrepancies in how they are organized and accessed. Discrimination, interrogation, and stigma often await rural, low-income mothers when they use food banks, and they are often single mothers. Words and phrases used to describe local rural food bank access in Nova Scotia, Canada, include “humiliating” and a “lack of dignity.” Based on their gender, relationship status, and recognition within small rural communities, discrimination is surprisingly common. Although most foodbank volunteers are kind, this discrimination is still faced within the broader community and within foodbanks themselves.
This discrimination could take the form of questioning such as “Is there a man in the house?” when registering family size at intake. Stigma could also be triggered by limited resources, such as the need to line up outside the food bank visible to the public, who frequently judge food bank recipients, especially single mothers. Something as simple as mismatched grocery bags when mothers take the bus home can give away the source of their food as food bank groceries. Rural, low-income mothers already face stigma from their communities simply by their existence and often their lack of attachment to a male breadwinner.
But why should we care about rural, low-income mothers and their babies facing food insecurity? Because infancy and early childhood are key developmental periods that are more vulnerable to inadequate nutrition, long-term impacts can range from future mental health problems to the unlikelihood of securing a job. Additionally, poverty and subsequent food insecurity come at a high cost to society. One report estimates that poverty in Nova Scotia alone costs approximately $2 billion per year.
With the cost of poverty so high, it is crucial to seek answers to this growing crisis of Canadian food insecurity. While food banks provide a necessary short-term intervention for food insecurity, long-term sustainable policies and systems, particularly for rural, low-income mothers, still need to be improved. The next blog post will explore solutions to rural, low-income mothers’ food insecurity.