'People are struggling': Almost 1 in 4 Nova Scotians are food insecure, data shows
New data finds number of food insecure Nova Scotians jumped to 22% in 2022
Nearly a quarter of Nova Scotians can't consistently and reliably afford healthy and nutritious food, according to new numbers released by Statistics Canada.
The data, compiled by the University of Toronto, measures food insecurity across Canada's 10 provinces for 2022. The numbers rose in every province, but the increases were largest in Atlantic Canada.
"I wish seeing these numbers that I could say that I was shocked or surprised, but the reality is, we have also been seeing every indication of the severity of food insecurity intensifying here in Nova Scotia," said Karen Theriault with Feed Nova Scotia.
"People are struggling at a very, very deep level to meet their daily needs."
The number of people living with food insecurity in Nova Scotia jumped from 17 per cent in 2021 to 22 per cent in 2022. That's only one percentage point behind Prince Edward Island, which now has the highest percentage of food-insecure people in the country.
Those numbers are likely to be even higher now. Theriault said food bank usage in Nova Scotia was up 27 per cent in the first two months of 2023, compared to the same period in 2022.
"Until our elected officials, quite honestly, choose to make it a priority to do something to reduce the level of food insecurity, there is no reason that we should expect for the numbers to go in any other direction," she said.
Poverty a 'political choice'
But the numbers did go in a different direction, briefly, in 2020 and 2021, when many Canadians were receiving income support from COVID-19 relief programs, which have since come to an end.
"When government responded by putting money directly into the hands of those who needed it, food insecurity rates declined … when we are looking for solutions to address food insecurity, you don't have to look any further than that," Theriault said.
But despite tabling a $14.4-billion budget for 2023-24, the province did not increase income assistance rates for the second year in a row.
"Poverty is a political choice. There is no other way to look at it. We are deciding every day what we are going to prioritize and we have not clearly prioritized addressing food insecurity," Theriault said.
Dalhousie University's Mandy Kay-Raining Bird, who is also the chair of Basic Income Nova Scotia, calls the state of food insecurity across the country "disturbing."
"Food insecurity is a reflection of income insecurity," she said, adding it continues to be high in Atlantic Canada because the region typically has higher levels of poverty and the job situation is more precarious.
Need 'targeted' approach
Kay-Raining Bird said income assistance rates in Nova Scotia are "well below" the official poverty line established in Canada.
"That is unconscionable. It's a policy choice and we can act differently and we should act differently," she said.
The situation is even more dire for young people and people from marginalized communities.
Nearly one-third, or 31.4 per cent of children in Nova Scotia are living in food-insecure households, according to the numbers. The data also shows the highest percentage of people living in food-insecure households are Black and Indigenous.
"We need to have a very targeted approach in the way that we are looking to address all of the systemic issues and the root causes that are leading to food insecurity," Theriault said.
"Far too often we look to food as the solution ... but food insecurity is not a problem that's rooted in a lack of food. It is an issue that is rooted in inadequate income."