Nfld. & Labrador

'Very, very serious situation': In northern Labrador, it's getting harder to find food

People living in Nunatsiavut are in a risky situation when it comes to feeding themselves, newly released research from northern Labrador shows.

Almost 60% of households along Labrador's north coast struggle with access to food

Dried fish, or pitsik, is a traditional Inuit way of preparing fish. The fish was being dried on the railing of this house along a main road in Nain. (John Gaudi/CBC)

People living in Nunatsiavut are in a risky situation when it comes to feeding themselves, newly released research from northern Labrador shows.

According to numbers in the Food Security in Nunatsiavut survey, nearly 60 per cent of all households along Labrador's north coast struggle with access to food, and most worry about it running out before they have money to buy more. 

Many people living in Labrador's five Inuit communities say they limit their food selection, the amount they buy, or quality of food because they can't afford more.

In Nain and Hopedale, the numbers are particularly startling — 80 to 84 per cent struggle with their diet.

Some face what researchers call severe insecurity, which includes skipping meals, or sometimes going full days without eating.

Nain Mayor Joe Dicker says the loss of country food such as caribou and delays in the shipping season can make a food shortage even worse. (CBC)

The results are from work done in 2013 and 2014 by researchers at Trent University and the University of Guelph. Nain Mayor Joe Dicker said the situation hasn't improved since then. 

"I'm almost scared to see what the figures would be like today, because the prices have gone higher in the stores, and it's worse than it was at that time," he told CBC News. "I'm saying that because in three years, I've seen personally my grocery basket rise dramatically."

Something needs to be done right now.- Kristeen McTavish, food security co-ordinator

In Nain and Hopedale, the survey happened just a few years into a provincial ban on hunting caribou, forcing residents to change their traditional reliance on that regional food staple.

It was also just before the start of a delayed shipping season, and Nunatsiavut communities rely on the MV Northern Ranger to ship in goods during warmer months. 

Kristeen McTavish, one of the researchers who works as the food security co-ordinator for the Nunatsiavut  government, said it's a picture of what could happen in a worst-case scenario, or when there are delays in shipping.

"Those point to really a very, very serious situation, and tell us that something needs to be done right now," she said.

"Another part of the survey looked at what food programs are currently available in the community. We know in those communities, there are very few emergency food resources. There are not many places where families can turn to get food in an emergency."

'Everybody's freezers are empty'

There are a few options, including Nunatsiavut's community freezers — a place people can go to get food or supplies when they need it.

They're stocked with country foods, including char and moose, but Dicker says the program can't keep up with demand.

"Everybody's freezers are empty," he said. "There are certain times of the year you cannot get out, and with all the expenses that you incur, it gets harder and harder to go out and harvest that food that you need."

Community freezers such as this one in Hopedale help supplement the food supply, but supplies do run out. (

Dicker said elected members of the Nunatsiavut government need to take the problem seriously, and store owners need to make more of an effort to stock staples and healthy foods. 

For McTavish, the high numbers — and the big difference from community to community — is a complex problem with no easy solution.

"Often in the media we see food insecurity as very closely associated to high food prices, because it's easy to show pictures of shockingly high prices in Northern stores, but that's not all that's going on," she said.

"There are a lot of other issues, like unemployment, and lasting impacts from colonization that we still need to address."


Matt McCann

CBC News

Matt McCann is the digital assignment producer for CBC Newfoundland and Labrador.