Low-income, lack of access to groceries creates 'double whammy', Lakehead professor says

A professor of political science at Lakehead University is concerned by the recent study from Thunder Bay Counts, which shows the price of a healthy food basket is on the rise in the Ontario city.

City governments can help make healthy food affordable, Doug West says

Inflation is modest at 1 per cent, but the price of fresh vegetables is up 11.5 per cent in September, Statistics Canada said. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

A professor of political science at Lakehead University is concerned by the recent study which shows the price of a healthy food basket is on the rise in the Ontario city.

"It should be worrying to everyone because it reflects the inability of us, as local residents in Thunder Bay and Orillia, to control the cost of food," said Doug West, who teaches at the university's Orillia campus.

The research from Thunder Bay Counts, a group dedicated to social change in the city, also found that a family of four, on social assistance, will spend 40 per cent of its monthly income on healthy food.

Compouding the problem is the fact many of these families live in parts of the city which are referred to as food deserts, because they lack easy access to a well-stocked grocery store.

"It's kind of a double whammy," said West. "Not only do they have to live in low-income situations but they also don't have access to an adequate amount of food that would help them live a healthy life."

Lakehead University political science professor Doug West says everyone should be concerned by the rising price of healthy food. (Doug West)

Municipal governments do have a role to play in making food more accessible and affordable, said West, suggesting they could demand that developers include a grocery store when planning a new subdivision.

City councils can also support urban agriculture groups such as Roots to Harvest, which grows community gardens in empty lots scattered around Thunder Bay, he said.

"The strategy the Thunder Bay city council has approved recognizes the legitimacy of using available lands for growing," said West.

"It's really about changing people's food culture and becoming much more in control of what goes in your mouth."