Haldimand-Norfolk has the worst record for food insecurity in Ontario, and health officials want more done to fight poverty locally.
Laura Goyette, a dietitian with the Haldimand-Norfolk Health Unit, urged Norfolk councillors at last week’s board of health meeting to get behind a movement to change the way organizations deal with food insecurity.
“We need to move away from food charity,” Goyette said in a phone interview.
“Food banks and meal programs do serve our severe food-insecure population, (but) there are a lot of limitations for people working in those areas. It’s hard for supply to meet demand.”
A study released by Cancer Care Ontario last year showed that 16 per cent of people in Haldimand-Norfolk don’t have enough access to fruit and vegetables or the food required to help keep them healthy, putting them into the food insecure category.
The provincial average for food insecurity is 12 per cent.
Goyette told councillors the problem is very serious and requires more than food banks, soup kitchens and community gardens.
Poverty, not the rising cost of food, is the main cause of food insecurity, she said.
“If we want to address food insecurity, we need to address poverty,” she said.
She believes targeting poverty will go a long way toward improving the rate of food security. If people can afford those fruits and vegetables, they stand to become much healthier people.
“We know that lack of access to food is tightly linked to health and well-being,” Goyette said.
“Food-insecure adults are significantly more likely to have poor mental and physical health, and more likely to suffer from chronic conditions, anxiety, high blood pressure.
“And then children as well, food affects their physical and mental health and affects academic performance.”
Goyette urged councillors to engage the provincial minister of community and social services to “meet the needs of clients” by advocating for increased social assistance that reflects the true cost of housing and food.
She also asked the county to endorse a position statement written by the Ontario Society of Nutrition Professionals in Public Health, which discusses the need for alternatives to food charity, poverty, and the rising cost of food and housing.
Council endorsed the report, which calls for a higher minimum wage, better affordable housing, more employment opportunities and improved social assistance.