Executive Summary – Food Insecurity in Northern Canada: An Overview

(Disponible en français : Résumé – L’insécurité alimentaire dans le Nord canadien : aperçu)

Food insecurity is generally defined as a situation that exists when people lack secure access to sufficient amounts of safe and nutritious food. In 2017–2018, 12.7% of Canadian households were food insecure, representing at least 4.4 million individuals. Food insecurity is disproportionately worse in the North than elsewhere in the country, with rates of household food insecurity reaching 16.9%, 21.6% and 57% in the Yukon, the Northwest Territories and Nunavut respectively.

Among Northerners, Indigenous peoples are particularly at risk of being food insecure. The high rates of food insecurity among northern and Indigenous populations can be explained by several factors, such as the relative remoteness and isolation of their communities, financial hardship and socioeconomic inequities, the legacy of colonial policies, climate change and environmental dispossession and contamination. Food insecurity has severe consequences on health and well-being; it has, for instance, been linked to malnutrition, infections, chronic diseases, obesity, distress, social exclusion, depression and suicidal ideation.

By providing a subsidy to eligible retailers in remote and isolated communities, Nutrition North Canada, a federal program, targets one of the causes of food insecurity: the high cost of perishable and nutritious food in the North. Introduced in 2011, the program has been criticized for several reasons over the years, with critics noting that the cost of perishable and nutritious food in the North remains too high for too many families. As of March 2019, the average cost to feed a healthy diet to a family of four in the North was $422.07 per week.

Regional and local initiatives have been implemented to address food insecurity in the North. These include a wide range of measures, from culturally appropriate food guides to comprehensive poverty-reduction initiatives. Communities have their own solutions, from food banks and soup kitchens to hunting and harvesting support programs.

Food insecurity is a serious public health issue that risks worsening in coming years. To reduce food insecurity in the North, the government will need to address its social, economic and environmental roots.

Read the full text of the Background Paper: Food Insecurity in Northern Canada: An Overview

Author: Olivier Leblanc-Laurendeau, Library of Parliament