I was not aware of the term "Food Insecurity" or how it is like to be food insecure until I came to university and learned about it through my courses and volunteering with various non-profit organizations. I grew up in a household where I would always find a fridge and pantry full of food. My parents could put dinner on the table most nights of the week and a lunch box or lunch money to carry to school. I never had to worry about where my next meal was coming from, which allowed me to focus on other aspects of my life. Unfortunately, it was easy for me to not realize the privilege of having a secure food supply.
This is not the case in most parts of the world. Globally, about 8.9% of the population, or 690 million people are food insecure. (1) In Canada, the 2017 -2018 statistics report showed 1 in 8 households was food insecure, totaling over 4.4 million Canadians. (2)
Food insecurity can vary from mildly food insecure, where a person or family might have an issue or problem with food access, resulting in a compromise in the quality and/or quantity of food consumed, to extremely food insecure, where serious food access issues exist, as well as decreased food consumption due to a lack of money or resources. (3)
Low-income families and those facing substantial social/economic disadvantages, including Indigenous and Black households, are most at risk for food insecurity. (4) One thing to note is that food insecurity has no relation to having food skills or knowledge about healthy eating, food budgeting, or the local food environment. (2) More often than not, it is an income issue, a social disparity issue, and a safe housing issue. (2)
How has COVID-19 impacted food security in Canada?
We see a rise in food insecurity as Canada continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. The Daily Bread Food Bank released a study that discusses the significant impacts the pandemic is having on food security in Canada. The main findings from the study reveal:
A 200% increase in population accessing and utilizing Toronto food banks during the pandemic
There was a 20% increase in the frequency of going a whole day without eating almost every month
1 in 3 children are going hungry, up from 1 in 4 children before the pandemic. (5)
Why should we address food insecurity in our communities?
Food insecurity is a severe public health concern. It can negatively impact an individual's mental, social, and physical health and has been linked to the development of several chronic health conditions such as depression, diabetes, heart disease, and higher mortality rates, i.e., 1 in 3 adults living in food-insecure households are hospitalized due to mental health problems. (2)(4)
So, what can business entrepreneurs do to combat food insecurity in our communities?
We can do so much right now to support our neighborhoods while remaining safe. However, addressing food insecurity on a national level would necessitate a change in how our local, provincial, and federal governments prioritize and distribute resources. It is essential to put a greater focus on ensuring that all demographics have equal access to resources. Business entrepreneurs can tackle this problem by revamping traditional models that approach the increasing prevalence of food insecurity from the perspective of corporate social responsibility (CSR) or charity. Below are some examples of this:
One-for-one or "buy-one-give-one" is a social entrepreneurship business model reputedly developed by Blake Mycoskie of TOMS shoes, where one needed item is given away for each item purchased. (6) Many food businesses follow this model for their products to help feed the hunger. For example, Tim Hortons launched the Smile Cookie initiative: When a customer purchases a $1 smile cookie at participating Tim Hortons locations, the full $1 goes to help support local charities like hospitals, food banks, and children's programs. (7) Similarly, Love Crunch Cereal, owned by Nature's Path, donates an equivalent amount of food bought by customers to food banks. (8) It is an excellent indirect marketing tactic for business and a viable way to create commercial and social value. On the other hand, it can help mitigate the increasing prevalence of food insecurity.
Buying Buttons are an idea of helping someone pay for their meal. For example, 541 Eatery and Exchange is a non-profit and pay-it-forward café in Hamilton, where they allow their customers to help someone else pay for their meal by "buying buttons" from a button jar. Each button is worth $1, and anyone can use up to 5 buttons a day from the button jar to buy whatever they would like from the menu. (9) It is a fantastic idea for businesses to help fight food hunger in the community without risking their own company's profit.
Feed the hunger and reduce food waste: In many food businesses, waste due to overproduction can be up to 56% of a company's total output, meaning more food is wasted than sold. A baseline of 5–7% is considered inevitable. (10) Having a plan for leftovers by the end of the day can be essential to mitigate the detrimental effects of food wastes. Whether you turn leftovers into staff meals or tomorrow's soup, sell it marked down for quick sale through an app like Flash Food, (11) or have a relationship with a local community center or local food banks, ensure that finding a use for leftovers is part of your business model. Care Mongering HamOnt is a mutual aid service meant to deliver food to people's doorstep during the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike most food banks, where the availability of perishable food items is limited, they also accept some perishable food items. (12)
Adopting new food economy skills and training: Food Venture Program (FVP) offers courses that can help your business build circularity and sustainability principles into your business model. (13) Our Food Future Canada is another great platform to promote your circular/sustainable food or beverage product, receive community feedback, and even apply for potential funding to launch and grow your food business ideas. (14)
(1) FAO, IFAD, UNICEF, WFP and WHO. (July 01, 2020). The state of food security and nutrition in the world 2020. Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.unicef.org/reports/state-of-food-security-and-nutrition-2020
(2) Tarasuk V, Mitchell A. (2020) Household food insecurity in Canada, 2017-18. Toronto: Research to identify policy options to reduce food insecurity (PROOF). Retrieved from https://proof.utoronto.ca/
(3) Definitions of food security. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/definitions-of-food-security.aspx
(4) McIntyre, L. & Tarasuk, V. (June 12, 2020). Food Insecurity in Canada. The Canadian Encyclopedia. Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.thecanadianencyclopedia.ca/en/article/food-insecurity-in-canada.
(5) Food insecurity on the rise in Canada. (August 04, 2020). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.foodsafety.ca/blog/food-insecurity-rise-canada
(6) Toms® official site: We're in business to improve lives. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.toms.com/ca/environment.html
(7) Buy a smile cookie - support local charities. (September 13, 2018). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://company.timhortons.com/ca/en/corporate/smile-cookies-2017.php#
(8) Love crunch. (November 25, 2020). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.naturespath.com/en-ca/love-crunch/
(9) 541 eatery & Exchange: BUTTON Jar CAFE: Hamilton on. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.fivefortyone.ca/?fbclid=IwAR38QJfxHcltIkaigFfxuNOgiHXl3vstw7xKxBLA1nC9LMrOBwFT9koIGUk
(10) Food waste Campaign Research. (September 17, 2020). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://foodsystemslab.ca/projects/food-waste-campaign/
(11) Save money and reduce food waste. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.flashfood.com/
(12) Ontario, D. (2020, April 22). Care-Mongering HamOnt: A HAMILTON response To covid-19. Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.djno.ca/post/care-mongering-hamont-a-hamilton-response-to-covid-19
(13) Start your food business Here: FOOD Venture Program: Ontario. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://www.foodventureprogram.com/
(14) Kitchen table. (n.d.). Retrieved March 03, 2021, from https://foodfuture.ca/