Food insecurity is a major concern in Saskatchewan, especially among people with low incomes who struggle to pay basics such as transportation, utilities, and rent.
A report titled The Cost of Healthy Eating in Saskatchewan 2015 shows that 19 percent of children and 10.6 percent of households face food insecurity. Given that food insecurity is closely associated with poverty, high poverty rates in Saskatchewan may explain why families struggle to buy quality food. Of 272,847 children, 72,850 lived in poverty in 2016, as shown by a report of the University of Regina’s Social Policy Research Centre. Compared to a poverty rate of 19.6 percent for the rest of Canada, the rate is 26.7 percent in Saskatchewan. The highest poverty rate or 60.1 percent is among children of lone parents.
Why Food Security Is a Concern?
Food availability is a major factor for families living in isolated Northern communities where air travel is the main and at times the only mode of transportation. Communities with low and seasonal access rely on air travel and seasonal and gravel roads. The cost of food in the Far North where communities rely on air travel is considerably higher ($440.74) compared to large cities ($212.52). The shortage of grocery stores is a major problem in isolated communities and First Nations reserves. People mainly buy food from general and convenience stores and gas stations. Essential food items are missing in many stores, including meat alternatives, meat, and fruits and vegetables.
Vulnerable Groups and Health
People who are more likely to face food insecurity include homeless persons and renters, Metis and First Nations people, social assistance recipients, persons with disabilities and chronic conditions, and residents of Northern Saskatchewan.
Children who are food insecure are more likely to experience suicidal thoughts, depression, social isolation, anxiety, and stress. They are also more likely to have academic, emotional, and behavioral problems. Poor nutrition during pregnancy puts babies at risk of birth defects and cognitive problems. Food insecurity also results in higher healthcare costs for medications, home care services, same day surgeries, physician services, emergency department services, and hospital care.
Strategies to Overcome Food Insecurity
Overcoming food insecurity requires both a provincial and national strategy on food security and poverty alleviation. Access to food can be improved through mobile stores, bulk buying programs, good food boxes, and community gardens and kitchens. Short-term solutions include local freezer programs, soup kitchens, and food banks. A report by Food Secure Saskatchewan also outlines priorities such as collaboration and cooperation, networking and partnership, awareness and public education, and local production. A conference was held in Prince Albert in 2006 and was attended by policy makers and the general public. Participants embraced a pool of strategies such as increased public awareness, collaboration with key stakeholders, and establishing a Made in Saskatchewan labelling program.
Resources for Vulnerable Groups
The Saskatchewan Poverty Reduction Strategy was developed by the provincial government and focuses on areas such as food security and health, employment, and skills training and education. Other focus areas include early childhood development, homelessness and housing, and income security. Income security will enable families to meet basic expenses such as groceries and housing. Skills training and education, on the other hand, will help improve income security so that residents are better able to meet their needs. It is also important to ensure that vulnerable groups are offered adequate support, including persons with disabilities, people with addiction and mental health problems, and victims of domestic violence. Collaboration with community leaders is essential to ensure improved availability of food.