Understanding Food Security

In the wake of Mayor Matt Brown and London City Council’s release of its poverty report entitled: “London for All: A Roadmap to End Poverty”, a singular recommendation to “support the development of regional food policy council charged with developing food security” (Richmond, 2016) remains potentially undefined in terms of its intended trajectory.

This is, most certainly, a recommendation that has great potential to impact the experience of poverty in London Ontario. But, in going forward with this recommendation, it will be very important for those individuals tasked with the responsibility of developing policy for establishing food security in London to be very clear regarding what food security is, and what it is not.

The United Nation’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FOA) defined food security in 1996 as occurring, “… when all people, at all times, have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life” (Hopma & Woods, 2014, pp 774-775)

Comparatively, food insecurity has been described as, “… experiences of depleting and unsuitable food supplies, uncertainty that food supplies would last and having to acquire household food supplies in socially unacceptable ways” (Loopstra & Tarasuk, 2015, p 444).

London’s current primary response to food insecurity among its citizens has been based on charitable models which include foodbanks, food pantries, and soup kitchens/hospitality meals. These are reactive models which seek to address an immediate need for food, but do not go further to address and/or to challenge the underlying cause of that pre-existing need for food. While these models are provided with the best intentions, and are helpful in the moment, they are not capable of building food security in London and, in fact, their very structure tends to increase the experience of food insecurity among the patrons that they serve.

This is because, for example, foodbanks create inclusion and exclusion criteria for eligibility for their services; they are not able to offer consistent food supplies; they often exist in geographic locations and offer operating hours that may create access difficulties for would-be patrons who may have transportation issues and/or who may work during the day; they tend to offer low quality and/or unhealthy food due to their reliance on charitable donations; they tend to limit patrons to what equates to a three-day supply of food; and they are known to create a sense of stigma among those who access these services (Loopstra & Tarasuk, 2015). These limitations and effects run counter to the notion of food security in which every individual would have access to food (without exclusion criteria), at all times (regardless of transportation barriers or working hours), and this food would be supplied in sufficient and nutritious amounts that would meet their individual needs and preferences (as opposed to lesser quality, processed, unhealthy food items).

Likewise, food pantries and soup kitchens/hospitality meals, while perhaps less exclusionary, are not necessarily accessible at all times to those who need food assistance, they may not provide dietary choice in what is offered, and they often create a stigmatizing experience for those who access them.

In defining what food security should be  as envisioned within London’s plan to end poverty, the key may well lie in another of the plan’s recommendations which encourages the establishment of the City of London as a Basic Income Guarantee pilot site (Richmond, 2016). Unlike charitable models that attempt to address the immediate needs of food insecurity, but also perpetuate that insecurity, a Basic Income Guarantee addresses poverty itself, which is the underlying cause of food insecurity, and thus eliminates it. It does this by ensuring that every individual has access to an income that is sufficient to meet their basic needs and by allowing them to live with dignity regardless of their work status (Basic Income Canada Network, 2016). This non-exclusionary means of ensuring financial security among all individuals echoes the FAO’s insistence that food security is contingent on economic access to food (Hopma & Woods, 2014). It also would permit individuals in London both the ability to shop for food when and where it is convenient for them to do so; and the prerogative to choose food that is healthy, and appropriate for their diet and their preferences. This freedom and choice is both liberating and dignifying, and it removes the stigma of depending on charitable organizations for food, and/or being required to prove one’s eligibility for that support. As such, the Basic Income Guarantee approach to ending poverty does, indeed, generate food security among all citizens. Additionally, and significantly, a Basic Income Guarantee would feed and stimulate the local economy as this provision enables all local citizens to be financially able to support city businesses.

With this in mind, perhaps the regional food policy council that may be struck in the near future to address the issue of food security in London would be well-advised to collaborate with those who are currently advocating for London to be a Basic Income Guarantee pilot site, and for the adoption of a nationwide Basic Income Guarantee program. It would appear, based on the substantial literature that is currently available which emphasizes the consistent success of Basic Income Guarantee programs both in Canada, and internationally, that London already has the answer to its food security issues in its recommendations for eliminating poverty … If it chooses to look there.

 References

Basic Income Canada Network. (2016). About basic income. Retrieved April 1, 2016 from  http://www.basicincomecanada.org/

Hopma, J., & Woods, M. (2014). Political geographies of ‘food security’ and ‘food sovereignty’. Geography Compass, 8(11), 773-784.

Loopstra, R., & Tarasuk, V. (2015). Food bank usage is a poor indicator of food insecurity: Insights from Canada. Social Policy & Society, 14(3), 443-455.

Richmond, R. (March 31, 2016). London poverty report released Thursday after six months of consultation with nearly 1,000 people. Retrieved April 1, 2016 from http://www.lfpress.com/2016/03/31/london-poverty-report-released-thursday-after-six-months-of-consultations-with-nearly-1000-people