Despite discussions and initiatives in some jurisdictions, the reduction of food insecurity rates has not been an explicit goal of public policies in Canada.

Food insecurity is rooted in material deprivation, with low income being the strongest predictor.

Research has demonstrated reductions in food insecurity where social policies have improved the material circumstances of vulnerable households.

Household food insecurity takes a tremendous toll on the health care system.

After adjusting for other well-established social determinants of health, such as education and income levels, total annual health care costs in Ontario were:

23% higher for adults living in marginally food insecure households than in food secure households

49% higher for adults living in moderately food insecure households than in food secure households

121% higher for adults living in severely food insecure households than in food secure households

These findings imply that addressing food insecurity through targeted policy interventions would reduce the associated health care costs and improve overall health.

I was two when my mom got the call, so I don’t remember it. But it’s a story my mother told me several times throughout my life, as it was one of her hardest moments.

It was 1984 and food banks were a relatively new addition to my hometown of Calgary, and the rest of Canada. Someone in our community knew we were struggling and had passed our names along to this new organization. One afternoon, a volunteer from the food bank called our house to tell us that they had a hamper ready for us, if we wanted it. My mom hung up the phone and wept. This, for her, was the ultimate sign of her failure as a parent: we were so poor that the food bank was calling.

We need to rethink the way we deal with food insecurity in Toronto. There are a great many people and organizations working on this issue, many whom offer immediate and much-needed access to food for the one in eight Toronto households that are food insecure. Immediate relief is the right humanitarian response, however it doesn’t get to the root cause of the problem. Unless we focus on what is generating food insecurity we will not produce a long-term solution.

The organizer of a grassroots organization speaking out against food insecurity says the government needs to give Ontarians the tools to get out of poverty, so they don’t have to rely on food banks for their next meal.

Mike Balkwill is the campaign organizer for Putting Food in the Budget, a group of volunteers who live on low incomes, working to change the perception and action around food insecurity in Ontario.

During a presentation to the Poverty Roundtable Hastings Prince Edward at the Quinte Sports and Wellness Centre Wednesday afternoon, he defined food insecurity as having a lack of quality food due to living on a low income. The biggest myth about poverty is that it only happens to certain people, Balkwill said.