According to Statistics Canada, 11 per cent of people in P.E.I. live with the burden of 'food insecurity' — not knowing from week to week whether they can afford adequate nutritious food.

The statistics show Islanders deal with food insecurity more than people in any other province.


Cheryl Blackett says eating healthy is hard to manage due to the cost of groceries. (CBC)

The overall price of food, groceries and eating out on P.E.I. has increased 21 per cent in the past five years.

Grocery shopping is a stressful experience for Cheryl Blackett.

"I'm only getting paid $10 an hour."

Blackett is mother to a six-year-old daughter and a seasonal farm worker in eastern P.E.I. She said she's living paycheque to paycheque, and that makes eating healthy a challenge.

"By the time you pay all your bills – because, you know, you got to keep up on them -- it's 'should I get broccoli or a bag of noodles?'" said Blackett.

Blackett said she aims to buy enough healthy food for her family and hasn't had to turn to a food bank. But she admitted, when all the bills come in, it's the groceries that sometimes get squeezed.

"You know if you don't pay your mortgage, there goes your house. Or if you don't pay your car loans, there goes your car,"

Income not keeping up

Bob King, manager of the Upper Room Soup Kitchen in Charlottetown, said it's clear to him it's getting worse. In the last couple years, the average lineup for a meal has gone up 40 per cent.

"Unemployment. That's it. There's just not enough money if you want to pay for your food or pay for your lodging."


Bob King, manager of the Upper Room Soup Kitchen, says unemployment has caused a 40 per cent increase in meals served. (CBC)

But unemployment is not the only factor. The latest numbers show that nearly half of the 3,400 Islanders who use food banks are either working or drawing employment insurance.

Lawrence Power, volunteer coordinator of the Montague Food Bank, has also seen that 40 per cent jump in demand in just the past year. And he says most of his clientele have jobs.

"A lot of people think of food banks as people that just don't want to try to make a go of it. But it is mostly people that are out there trying to make a go of it and just can't afford it," said Power.

"Before when they were working, they could perhaps afford their groceries and stuff. But now, even when they're working they can't afford it."

Jennifer Taylor, president of the P.E.I. Food Security Network, said the problem is that the money coming in isn't keeping up.

"We have an unacceptably high number of Islanders who are worrying about food. I think it's income, it's employment rate, it's the fact we have a lot of seasonal workers. We know for a fact the people who once donated to those programs are now clients or participants in those programs. It tells us we've got a problem," said Taylor.

"We know chronic disease and obesity are tied to poverty. To improve the quality of life of Islanders, you would save money in the long run."

Dr. Jennifer Zelin sees the effects of food insecurity in her exam room.

"It's frustrating when you make a diagnosis, and you know how they can treat it.  And diet is the medicine in that case, and they can't afford it."