The number of households that couldn't afford a healthy diet in the North increased during the first year of the Nutrition North program, according to a report on Canadian food insecurity released yesterday by Statistics Canada

The report focused on the most recent food security data available, for the year 2011/2012. That was the same year the Nutrition North program, which aimed to address high food prices in Canada's territories by paying a shipping subsidy directly to retailers, was introduced.

However, that same year, the number of households that couldn't afford a healthy diet increased in all three territories — in Nunavut, climbing from an already staggering 32 per cent of households to 36.7 per cent.

Food insecurity is when people can't afford enough food, or the right variety of foods needed for a healthy diet. Nunavut has the highest rate of food insecurity in Canada, at 36.7 per cent. The Northwest Territories is second at 13.7 per cent, and the Yukon third, at 12.4 per cent.

Georgina Jacobson-Masuzumi was raised in Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, a small community located on the Arctic Ocean, and where a can of ground coffee costs $22. 

"It's so expensive that I'm sure our landfill gets more green groceries than we get put on our plates," says Jacobson-Masuzumi. 

Jacobson-Masuzumi says the price of food in the community has continued to climb during the first four years of the Nutrition North program, which is adversely affecting the health of community residents.

"They gravitate towards the processed foods," she says. "Stuff with a lot of sugar and a lot of salt."

Groups call for national policy

The high rates of food insecurity across the North are leading groups across the country to call for a national food policy. Aruna Antonella Handa is with a think tank called Alimentary Initiatives, and says that a policy is necessary to address both immediate and long-term needs, particularly in the North.

"It would absolutely keep tabs on what the food security issues are in various areas of Canada," she says, "with solutions for them. The report indicates that aboriginal households are very food insecure in the North.

"Specifically, with places like Nunavut, where it's one in three households... you could declare a food emergency initially, address the problem right now, with shipments of food. But also, with a national food policy, address the problem in a more sustainable way."

According to Handa, a national food policy would address immediate food prices, as well as create subsidies for sustainable production and food educations in schools.