In the previous blog, I explored several issues with sole reliance on food banks as a solution to food insecurity. Discrimination and stigma were salient – especially for low-income, rural mothers who face additional barriers. These barriers include inequity in treatment by the public and some food bank workers, transportation difficulties, and lack of anonymity in small rural communities. While food banks provide an often-necessary temporary solution for those who access them, they do not address the root of food insecurity: inadequate income.
The recently released 2022 Report Card on Child and Family Poverty in Nova Scotia recommends that additional financial support be created for pregnant women and infants within the first year of life because this is a particularly vulnerable time and the most costly for families. PROOF Toronto, an interdisciplinary research program studying policy approaches to food insecurity in Canada, states that a shift from food charity to policies that ensure adequate income is needed to address food insecurity. Other examples of such policies include ensuring adequate wages, raising the minimum wage and addressing the gender pay gap.
Food insecurity is most often accompanied by other measures of deprivation and poverty. Food insecure households generally have less financial means to go toward basic necessities such as transportation and shelter. Measures that support these necessities, such as affordable housing policies, can help bring families out of food insecurity. Transportation is often an important barrier for low-income, rural mothers. Providing appropriate and affordable transportation infrastructure in rural communities enables low-income mothers to access food more easily, whether from food banks or grocery stores. The cost of taxis to and from a grocery store can be prohibitive on a low income and they often eat into other areas of the budget such as food.
In addition to income-based policies, programs exist in between a charity model and financial assistance. One such program for pregnant mothers and mothers with infants up to six months of age is funded via the Canadian Prenatal Nutrition Program of Canada. This program funds community-level projects that support vulnerable pregnant and new mothers. One example of this program is in the Annapolis Valley, Nova Scotia, called Great Beginnings. It is run through Kids Action Program. This program delivers a CSA-style food box to pregnant and new mothers for the small fee of $5.00. This fee is affordable for many low-income women. It is different from pure food charity because it lends dignity to recipients by allowing them to contribute an income-appropriate amount. The boxes include fresh fruits, vegetables, eggs, and other items.
In addition to food items, recipes are included, as well as helpful information for expecting and new mothers, such as what to bring to the hospital for the birth. These food boxes are also accompanied by cooking workshops twice per month – one virtual and one in person – that employ recipes that use the ingredients in the boxes and help build skills in healthy meal preparation. Workshops usually include the preparation of a meal for that day and at least one freezer meal. Executive Director of Kids Action Program, Suann Boates, stated that the demand for this program has increased “exponentially” in the past three years as growing numbers of families face food insecurity.
Innovative solutions like Great Beginnings could help bridge the gap between food charity and food security for low-income, rural mothers and their infants.