A new report says New Brunswick had Atlantic Canada’s highest household rate of food insecurity last year.
The study from PROOF, a research program at the University of Toronto, says 19 per cent of New Brunswick household residents worried about food access between 2020 and 2021.
Newfoundland and Labrador had the region’s second-highest rate of food insecurity with 17.9 per cent of households.
Nova Scotia had a food insecurity rate of 17.7 per cent, with 15.3 per cent for households on Prince Edward Island.
The report found 15.9 per cent of households in 10 provinces experienced food insecurity totaling around 5.8 million people, including 1.4 million children.
The province with the highest percentage of household food insecurity was Alberta (20.3 per cent), with the lowest in Quebec (13.1 per cent). The study did not include data from people living in the three territories or on Indigenous reserves, making note of the “high vulnerability to food insecurity” in those areas.
Valerie Tarasuk, a research leader at the University of Toronto’s Department of Nutritional Sciences, says the range in provincial numbers show the effectiveness of different policy approaches.
“Look at Québec. They have more generous child benefits than anyone else in the country and their child benefits are indexed to inflation,” says Tarasuk. “They’ve been indexing their social assistance programs to inflation for years and years. They’ve steadily increased the minimum wage.”
“I know some of this is happening in New Brunswick but it’s more recent.”
The report defines food insecurity as an “inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints.” It notes the experience can range “from concerns about running out of food before there is money to buy more, to the inability to afford a balanced diet, to going hungry, missing meals, and in extreme cases, not eating for whole days because of a lack of food and money for food.”
Research from the report doesn’t take into account the historic rates of inflation recorded so far this year.
“For me the big worry will be an increase in severe food insecurity,” says Tarasuk. “I think that’s very likely to happen with these increases in prices.”
SUMMER INCREASE IN NB FOOD BANK USE
Food banks across New Brunswick are also reporting a marked increase in clients this summer.
“What really scares me is everything is already kind of doubling and we haven’t even hit winter yet,” says Monica Grant of the Valley Food Bank in Woodstock, NB “That’s when we see our really high numbers in the winter, because of your power bills.”
“This morning I had four phone calls from people who are brand new.”
Donna Linton, the co-ordinator at the food bank in St. Stephen, NB, says circumstances have led it to put an emphasis on providing food for people without a stove.
“We have a traditional hamper that would go to a home that has a full size fridge and stove,” says Linton. “We have the motel bags, for a mini fridge and microwave. And then we have the go bags. And they’re basically things people can eat on the go, they don’t require any kind of cooking or can-opener.”