After the two devastating World Wars, there has been a strong belief among major part of the world that food insecurity has been eliminated. However, researchers have shown that even in developed countries like Canada, there is still a considerable part of the population that is affected by food insecurity. According to PROOF – Food Insecurity Policy Research, 12% of households in Canada still experience some level of food insecurity. “This represents 1.3 million households or 3.2 million individuals including nearly 1 million children under the age of 18”. It is questionable that why food insecurity still persists while there is ample food availability around the world after two World Wars. It is also worthy to note down what the root cause of consistent figures for food insecurity is and who is responsible for this issue. The purpose of this paper is to answer these questions regarding the issues of food insecurity in food banks. This paper argues that addressing food insecurity should be a shared responsibility among all levels in the society from individuals to the government. It also discusses relevant points in literature relating to the argument of the paper and provides applicable evidence to support this argument.
Even though the right to food is recognized as a fundamental human rights in many countries, not many legislative policies or procedures to protect this right have been implemented. Since no explicit discourses about the enforment and accountability to protection of this right have been made, food insecurity still persists and drives demand for food banks to increase significantly. There have been numerous research papers addressing solution for food insecurity in food banks and many of which suggest for a more explicit assumption of responsibilities regarding food insecurity at different levels in society: individuals, community and government. This paper will argue that eliminating food insecurity is a shared responsibility among everybody in the society. My argument builds on findings from two research papers discussed below.
The first relevant paper, “Food Banks, Food Drives and Food Insecurity: The Social Canstruction®of Hunger” by Iris De Roux-Smith analyzes individual understanding of food banks and how it affects social perception of accountability for food insecurity. The study examines Canstruction® Toronto, a design and build competition using food cans from sponsors with the donations going to the Daily Bread Food Bank. Through extensive interview, observation and analysis of Canstruction® participants, the findings show that this group possesses the least understanding of the main objective of food banks. This group admits that their main objective is to use as many cheap cans as possible to construct an object that can portray the theme of ending hunger in a creative manner. Even though they recognize the insufficient supply of nutritious food provided by food banks, their position on the importance of quantity over quality is dominated throughout the interview process. More importantly, “group members related their understanding of hunger as a problem that could be addressed through acts of generosity and could be solved through altruism…These statements expressed by participants reinforce the theme used by food banks that collective acts of kindness can alleviate hunger”. The participants also express their sympathy with food bank consumers as they assume that increasing demand for food banks is attributed to bad luck such as job loss or poor health. The evidence obtained from Canstruction® participants suggests that there is a serious lack of knowledge among individuals regarding the root of increasing demand for food banks. The lack of individual knowledge and awareness is contributed by the concept of fighting hunger as a matter of charity promoted by food banks themselves. For example, on Food Banks Canada’s official website, the Getting Involved section mainly encourages individuals and corporations to donate and demonstrates how their donation can make an influential impact on fighting hunger. Due to disparity in the image that food banks promote, individuals only develop emotional connection with food bank consumers but not a moral or social responsibility to ensure food security is achieved in the society. The study concludes that charity is just a band-aid for food insecurity and this wound can only be healed by directing individuals to food insecurity as the fundamental cause of food banks demand and promoting individual responsibility to protect the right to food.
The second relevant paper, “Canadian Food Banks and the Depoliticization of Food Insecurity at the Individual and Community Levels” by Eleanor Anne Carson further strengthens the findings from the first paper on the individual level but also expand the scope to the community level. The paper suggests that a solution for food insecurity can be assigning accountability regarding food insecurity to community. According to Eleanor, “the problem of hunger is not just located in the community, but the whole community is the location within which to solve the problem through food drives, food donations, and food redistribution”. Developing community responsibility regarding food insecurity provides a more responsive process to food bank users’ needs and enhance awareness about food insecurity locally. This paper also emphasizes that expanding responsibility regarding food insecurity to the community does not mean that government can overlook this issue. It suggests that using a rights framework to address the issue of food insecurity in food bank make it a profound political matter. Politicizing the issue of food insecurity “enables questions to be raised about the quality and justice of its production, distribution and consumption and calls for accountability and places a significant amount of responsibility on government to protect its citizens against hunger”. Through this rights-based system, food bank users can acknowledge that their rights are violated if there are insufficient resources in the food bank. In addition, when individuals or corporations donate food, they recognize that they are fulfilling an important obligation to prevent the violation of right to food but not just making charitable donation. As a result, the government also has to establish and implement policies to ensure that every Canadian is food secure.
Due to disparity among individual, community-based and governmental acknowledgement of food insecurity as a critical issue, the impact of food insecurity illustrated by food banks has been undermined significantly. Food insecurity is not a temporary wound that can be healed by itself but a collective efforts from all levels in society.
Accountability for food insecurity should be universal because the right to food is a fundamental human right. It has been recognized in “a range of international legal instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the UN General Assembly in 1948”. It is also included in the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which Canada signed in 1976. The right to food is integrated into other human rights and is an essential one for other rights to exist. It is a right for both food secure and food insecure individuals. By ignoring the existence of food insecurity, an individual, a community or a government is taking away this right from food insecure individuals. Protection of this right does not only mean that your right is protected but also other people’s rights are protected too. As each individual belongs a common society, taking rights away from other individuals in the society contradicts with the sociology of equality. According to the authors of Social Equality: On What It Means to be Equals, “inspiration behind egalitarianism is not the idea of the equalization of some currency of justice, but the idea of a society in which all regard and treat each other as equals”. Acknowledgment of accountability for food insecurity at all levels of society ensures that egalitarianism is achieved regarding the right to food.
In addition to the importance of the right to food, a shared responsibility to fight food insecurity should be assumed by everyone because it affects interconnected fundamental areas of society including health, education and economy. According to PROOF – Food Insecurity Policy Research, “food insecurity takes a tremendous toll on people’s health and the healthcare system”. A review of effects on children’s health and behaviour done by Janice Ke and Elizabeth Lee Ford-Jones discusses that impacts of food insecurity on children include reduced learning and productivity, mental health, chronic diseases and overweight status. Children living in food-insecure households have weaker student’s cognitive capacities and higher “risk of developing asthma, depression and suicidal ideation in adolescence and early adulthood”. They also can be more vulnerable to critical chronic conditions such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension and back problems. These negative effects on children’s health directly harm the health care and education system. Diseases from children can be infectious to other people in the community and eventually subsequent generation of the society, which places more pressure on the health care system. Experiencing negative health impacts from food insecurity prevents children from developing full potential at school, which is harmful for the education system. Pressure placed on the health care and education system will be transferred directly to the economy. A study by Brandeis University reveals that “the social and economic cost of hunger and food insecurity in the United States in 2010 hit $167.5 billion in addition to federal expenditures to address hunger”. In Canada, food insecurity also prevents the national economy from prospering. According to the Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014 by PROOF, “60.9% of households whose major source of income was social assistance were food insecure”. Both figures above demonstrate that food insecurity can be a danger to the economic development as fighting food insecurity requires a remarkable amount of financial resources. Considering the profound impacts that food insecurity has these interconnected areas of society, this issue cannot be solved by an individual in a short-term period but by everyone.
Finally, sharing the responsibility to eliminate food insecurity will drive the procedure to solve this issue more efficiently and quickly. With collective effort from all levels in society, all aspects of food insecurity will be addressed and solved from the root. In addition, it will enhance deeper understanding and awareness about this issue, which contributes to develop more appropriate policies to prevent food insecurity to expand in the future.
Food insecurity is a huge wound that cannot be healed putting a band-aid which is food bank on. It is a critical issue that affects essential aspects in a society especially the development of children. Fighting food insecurity should not be defined as a matter of charity but a moral and legal obligation. It is not fair to put the burden to solve this controversial issue on any single party but the whole society. The accountability to eliminate food insecurity should be shared by individuals, communities and the government to ensure that the right to food is protected. In addition, collective effort to address this issue will contribute to improve other aspects of a society more productively.
Food Banks Canada. (2018). Getting Involved. Retreived from https://www.foodbankscanada.ca/Get-Involved.aspx
Iris De Roux-Smith. (2014). FOOD BANKS, FOOD DRIVES AND FOOD INSECURITY:THE SOCIAL CANSTRUCTION®OF HUNGER.
OPHA. (2016). What should we do about food insecurity?. Retrieved from chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/http://www.opha.on.ca/getmedia/8a4e5cdd-2e8f-447b-9693-a70296cdc0d4/OPHA-Webinar-What-should-we-do-about-food-insecurity.pdf.aspx?ext=.pdf
Valerie Tarasuk & Andy Mitchell & Naomi Dachner. (2014). Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2014. Retrieved from chrome-extension://oemmndcbldboiebfnladdacbdfmadadm/http://proof.utoronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/Household-Food-Insecurity-in-Canada-2014.pdf
Brandeis University. (2011). Social and economic cost of hunger and food insecurity in US in 2010 was $167.5 billion
Janice Ke & Elizabeth Lee Ford-Jones. (2015). Food insecurity and hunger: A review of the effects on children’s health and behaviour.
PROOF. (2018). Household Food Insecurity in Canada. Retrieved from http://proof.utoronto.ca/food-insecurity/
FSC. (2018). THE RIGHT TO FOOD IN CANADA. Retrieved from https://foodsecurecanada.org/right-food-canada
Carina Fourie & Fabian Schuppert & Ivo Wallimann-Helmer. (2015). Social Equality: On What It Means to be Equals