Just buying a month's worth of healthy groceries would put many low-income Londoners into debt, according to the Middlesex-London Health Unit's latest Nutritious Food Basket Survey.

Low-income individuals and families would have to spend 36 per cent of their monthly income to afford healthy food, leaving little extra income for utilities, transportation and other expenses. 

In comparison, an average-income family spends just 11 per cent of their monthly income on food. 

That means many low-income Londoners are stuck eating junk food or skipping meals if they want to afford rent and heat, said Linda Stobo, manager of chronic disease prevention and tobacco with the Middlesex-London Health Unit.

It's hard to be single

Single men using Ontario Works (OW) fared the worst in the health unit's survey.

A single man living on OW income and paying $621 a month in rent would have to go "$110 in the hole" to buy healthy food for a month, said Stobo. 

"They don't have adequate income to even think about eating a healthy diet, because they don't have enough to make ends meet," she said.

And food insecurity isn't just an issue for the unemployed. Three out of five households that struggle to put food on the table have paid employment, according to the health unit. 

"We need to remember that poverty is the root cause of food insecurity," said Stobo. "Not poor choices."

Charity 'not a sustainable solution'

During the holidays, food insecurity is top of mind for many people who donate to charities that offer food and meal programs. That includes CBC London: We're hosting our month-long Sounds of the Season campaign in support of the London Food Bank.

Although it's important to support these charities, they don't address the long-term issue of food insecurity, said Stobo. 

The root of the problem is that people don't have enough money to buy food, and the way to address that is to increase income, she said. 

"We're looking for things like ensuring social assistance rates are reflective of food cost and are reflective of basic living costs," said Stobo.

"So that an individual has an adequate income to be able to at least make ends meet, to put their feet on the ground and take some steps forwards to climb out of poverty."


Sounds of the Season is our month-long campaign in support of the London Food Bank. We're raising money throughout December, and hosting two live shows Dec. 1 and 12.

Join the conversation and follow along throughout Sounds of the Season in the month of December by tagging @cbclondon and using the hashtag #cbcsotsont.