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Simcoe County addresses food security issues

Study finds lack of nutritious food makes for sick society
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The circle of poverty is intertwined with the quality of food some folks may access in our community. A task force here in Simcoe County is doing what it can to address the problem.

Research is being conducted to advise a collaborative county-wide framework to alleviate food insecurity, and Doriano Calvano, who heads the Social Policy and Planning arm of the county’s Children and Community Services Department, says the committee has drawn clear links between household income and food quality.

“Food insecurity occurs when food quality and/or quantity are compromised at the household level, most often due to limited financial resources. The Food Security Framework (intends to) deliver a strategic plan to allow residents of Simcoe County, at all times, to have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food.”

Calvano also says food banks, for all the valuable service they provide, only treat a symptom of food insecurity, adding that some longer-term is needed.

“The Framework will be a blueprint for furthering awareness, coordination and development of approaches designed to enhance food security for residents in Simcoe County. Next steps to help alleviate food insecurity include identifying community food security challenges and gaps, coordinating effective programs and evaluating the concept of a Local Food Council.”

Poverty is always a hot issue as elections draw near, including the one due for early June in Ontario. Calvano insists the Framework plans to engage advocacy and development at the provincial and local levels, politically.

“A number of key initiatives have been implemented across Simcoe County, including Living Wage… (namely), the hourly wage worker(s) need to earn to cover their basic expenses and participate in their community. These basic expenses include shelter, clothing, transportation and nutritious food.”

According to the Canadian Community Health Survey (CCHS), from 2007-2014, about 12 per cent of Simcoe-Muskoka households reported a level of food insecurity at least once in the past 12 months, a percentage similar to the proportion of residents across the province.

Food insecurity captures concepts like “worry about running out of food and/or limit(ed) food selection because of lack of money for food.”

No real surprise: CCHS said food insecurity is highest among one-parent families, with 24 per cent reporting marginal, moderate or severe food insecurity during the survey period from 2007 to 2014.

The CCHS study also reinforced that a nutritious diet contributes to overall health, promotes optimal growth and development and helps to reduce the risk of many chronic diseases. Children living in food insecure households experience poorer physical and mental health, and youth are at increased risk of depression, social anxiety and suicide.

Based on average apartment rents, a family of four with median income after-tax living in our area would need to spend 25 per cent (Muskoka) or 28 per cent (Simcoe County) of their monthly income after-tax on food and rent combined.

Calvano concludes that county council has thrown its support behind efforts to address the problems of food insecurity, poverty and homelessness, and aims to put forward a plan to solve the problems within a matter of weeks.

“As part of this Framework, five Focus Groups will be held throughout Simcoe County to engage community organizations and advocates. The results will help shape the Framework’s strategic plan. The Advisory Committee, comprised of agricultural, food, business, education, social and community partners, will continue to contribute expertise and experience and collaborate in the completion of the Food Security Framework.

“The final development of the Food Security Framework is projected for the summer of 2018.”

To learn more about the problem of poverty and food insecurity, and how you can get involved in the solution, click here.