By Samantha Burton
Though food insecurity is a problem throughout Canada, it is hitting Nunavut especially hard. In 2017/2018, Statistics Canada found that of the households with children in Nunavut, 62.4% had food insecure adults and 42.7% had food insecure children . At one point, FoodSecureCanada reported that nearly 70% of the Nunavut population were food insecure . Such pervasive food insecurity in Nunavut is a direct violation of the right to available, accessible, and adequate food .
The disproportionate insecurity in Nunavut is a result of historical factors and geographical remoteness . Many of those in Northern Canada rely on a mix between traditional food (obtained through hunting) and market food . However, with the high costs of hunting, changes in lifestyle and cultural practices , and climate change, traditional food consumption is becoming increasingly difficult . This means Nunavut residents are relying on costly market food more often. Many communities in Nunavut, especially Indigenous communities, are remote; increasing the shipping distance of food and reliance on planes or other unconventional methods of delivery results in food being more expensive .
In 2016, the cost of groceries was up to three times higher in Nunavut stores than through the rest of Canada . In Nunavut, a higher percentage of families have a lower income, and employment opportunities are restricted , making the increased costs of food especially challenging, and even prohibitive. On-reserve in Fort-Albany, it is normal for many households to be spending a minimum of 50% of their monthly income on food . In 2019, it was reported that cases of water in Iqaluit cost as much as $29.99 – not only is this an exorbitant amount by any standard, but it is especially problematic considering that the community is faced with a boil water advisory. . Other foods that have been recorded as having exceptionally high prices include cabbage at $28.54, red peppers for $16.89, apples for $6.69, a box of chicken burgers for $32.39, baby formula at $55.39, and a case of 12 cans of ginger ale for $82.49 .
FoodSecureCanada found that a Revised Northern Food Basket for a 4-person family for one-month costs $1,793.40 . With lower incomes and prohibitive food prices, much of the population relies on food banks and other programs to feed their families. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these resources have closed , only exacerbating the situation.
In 2011, the federal government launched the Nutrition North Program to provide subsidies for certain foods in an attempt to improve affordability and accessibility in the North . However, food insecurity increased from 33.1% to 39.4% the year the program launched, and then by 2014 had increased to 46.6% despite the program being in full implementation for a year at that point. This program replaced a program that was subsidizing food shippers, instead, transferring the subsidy to retailers . However, despite the subsidy on the food, retailers are not getting appropriate aid to deal with the high costs of labour, maintenance, electricity, fuel, all of which play a factor in why food prices are so high . Even with the subsidies, groceries in Nunavut still cost over two times what they cost in Southern Ontario , which can help explain the continued food insecurity. The Nutrition North program has been expanded during the COVID-19 pandemic , and the government has invested over $1.1 million to improve food security in Nunavut . However, with the low-incomes, prohibitive food prices, and a program that has not been effective so far, the government may need to develop a new program, rather than simply expanding the existing one.
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