Food insecurity rising across the province and what you can do

Not having access to sufficient food, or food of adequate quality to meet one’s basic needs is one of the ways you can define food insecurity. People of Six Nations and the province of Ontario are facing this problem again as the holidays approach and will likely carry on well into 2023.

It is not only the rising cost of food that is contributing to issues surrounding food insecurity in the province, but it plays a large role. According to Forbes, the higher prices of common food items are causing consumers to make difficult decisions surrounding food insecurity, like having to turn to food banks.

Food insecurity ranges from having to limit the essentials to doing without food entirely because of a lack of money. In Ontario in 2021, 249,000 households missed meals, reduced their intake of food or went days without eating. Ontario was the only province where more people were food insecure in 2021 than in 2020, according to The Star.

In a November article by Two Row Times writer Donna Duric, we learned the usage of the Six Nations Community Food Bank has skyrocketed from roughly 50 visitors per week to nearly 300. The likelihood of that number having risen since the article was published on Nov. 23 is high.

The statistics come from Chair Mary Monture. She said the food bank has had to give out less food to meet the demand within the community and that the food bank has spent $120,000 on food alone from January to September of this year.

“It’s very hard now,” Monture said. “Our numbers keep increasing every week. It depends on the week and time of year.”

Donations to the food bank from community members and local businesses like the Ohsweken Speedway in early December help a lot. Glenn Styres, owner of the speedway, dropped off a $10,000 cheque to the food bank and another anonymous donor also gave them a $10,000 cheque. Styres said he heard how bad the situation was at the food bank and wanted to help out.

Why prices are rising

There are many reasons why the cost of food is still rising, some reported in Forbes include; pandemic disruptions, the war in Ukraine, and Russian sanctions:

1. Pandemic Disruptions: The pandemic disrupted nearly every part of the food supply chain, including production, processing and retail. Those effects on the food supply chain are still being felt today.

When lockdowns forced people to eat at home, producers catering to restaurants lost a key customer base, while grocery stores faced a massive increase in demand. Many food producers struggled in those early months to convert their operations to serve grocery consumers.

Food production costs also increased due to labour turnover, investments to protect products from contamination, and additional worker-training costs. Even the cost of transportation of food to processors and grocery stores increased as retailers placed rush orders to keep shelves stocked.

These cost increases are folded into the price consumers pay for groceries. And while some transportation costs have dropped, including gasoline, other increased costs throughout the food supply chain offset any potential relief.

2. The War in Ukraine: In the early days of the war in Ukraine, analysts speculated that food prices were bound to be affected. Those predictions have come to fruition. Russia and Ukraine are some of the largest producers of wheat in the world, together accounting for 30 per cent of all wheat exports.

But the war has posed obvious challenges for Ukraine to continue exporting wheat. Both its agricultural production and export capabilities have been decimated by the war: Its cargo exports decreased 92 per cent between May 2021 and May 2022 according to S&P Global Market Intelligence.

Ukraine and Russia signed a deal in July to release about 20 million tons of grain that were stuck in Black Sea ports. According to McKinsey & Company, the release brought some relief to the market, but long-term complications remain. McKinsey estimates the 2022 to 2023 grain harvest in Ukraine will end up being more than 30 million tons below normal levels.

With Ukraine unable to fulfill its role as a major wheat producer, the world is facing a shortage. Short supply means the price of wheat is much higher, making it more expensive to process key ingredients, such as flour and starch. In turn, food producers must increase the price they charge consumers to make up for their higher production costs.

3. Sanctions on Russia: Due to the war in Ukraine, Western countries have implemented bans on Russian imports, including oil and gas. Energy prices rose 23.8 per cent from August 2021 to August 2022, per the latest CPI report. Higher energy prices further exacerbate the already-high food production and transportation costs that the pandemic triggered.

Soaring fertilizer costs also contribute to food price increases. Since early 2021, farmers have struggled to cope with rising fertilizer costs; prices in some areas increased by more than 300 per cent before the war in Ukraine, according to the American Farm Bureau Federation. Higher prices on the production side has forced farmers to increase their crop prices.

Russian sanctions are only worsening the already-existing fertilizer shortage. Russia is a major exporter of fertilizers, accounting for close to 30 per cent of the world’s fertilizer exports.

Are prices expected to lower?

Food inflation is set to remain high in the first half of 2023 before it starts to ease, said Sylvain Charlebois, lead author of the report and Dalhousie University professor of food distribution and policy, in a Canadian Press news release.

“When you look at the current food inflation cycle we’re in right now, we’re probably in the seventh-inning stretch,” he said in an interview. “The first part of 2023 will remain challenging … but we’re starting to see the end of this.”

Multiple factors could influence food prices next year, including climate change, geopolitical conflicts, rising energy costs and the lingering effects of COVID-19, the report said.

Currency fluctuations could also play a role in food prices. A weaker Canadian dollar could make importing goods like lettuce more expensive, for example.

Earlier this year the loonie was worth more than 80 cents US, but it then dropped to a low of 72.17 cents US in October amid a strengthening U.S. dollar. It has hovered near the 74 cent mark in recent weeks, ending Friday at 74.25 cents US.

“The produce section is going to be the wild card,” Charlebois said. “Currency is one of the key things that could throw things off early in the winter and that’s why produce is the highest category.”

Easy ways to cut grocery costs

According to CNBC, food prepared at home now costs 10 per cent more than it did a year ago. Comparatively speaking, restaurant prices have risen by 6.9 per cent, making it more affordable for some people to eat out than prepare meals at home.

Despite rising food costs, it is possible to save money by cooking at home.

Purchase generic brands: Switching to generic brands can immediately bring about savings over name-brand counterparts. Generics cost less because manufacturers don’t have to offset the cost of advertising. Many generic brands are made in the same facilities that produce name-brand items.

Plan weekly or monthly meals: Take a few moments to jot down meal ideas for the week. This can streamline the process of buying meals and help a person use fewer ingredients. Plus, meal plans can be based on which items are on sale. One can meal plan from scratch, or utilize a meal plan from a website that helps utilize all ingredients in various ways, such as turning leftover meatloaf from one night into Sloppy Joes on another.

Stick to a list: When meal planning, check out the pantry first to see what’s on hand, and then mark down the items needed. Only buy what is listed, resisting the urge to make impulse purchases. For those who can’t avoid throwing a few extra items in the wagon, utilize stores’ shop-from-home services, where it’s possible to keep track of what’s being spent in real-time. Simply check out and then do a curbside pickup.

Check product prices: When comparing prices, be sure to check out the net item, net pound or net ounce price. This enables shoppers to see if a sale is really a value, including whether it’s best to buy pre-packaged products or individual items.

Consider cheaper meals: Make the bulk of meals with less expensive ingredients, such as beans, whole grains and vegetables. Chicken drumsticks or thighs are generally cheaper than steaks or even chicken breasts and cutlets.

Reduce reliance on bottled beverages: Opt for water at home rather than bottled, if possible. Purchase iced tea powder or tea bags and whip up brews. Water with lemon juice can replace lemonade.

Six Nations Community Food Bank resources

“There were a total of 1,462,795 visits to food banks across Canada in 2022,” according to foodbankscanada.ca.

Every Thursday is food service day at the Six Nations Community Food Bank and food service hours are from 9:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. And again from 1:00 p.m. to 4:30 p.m. Food items are handed out based on availability.

Anyone wishing to donate to the food bank can send money via e-transfer to sncfoodbank@gmail.com. For more information on how to donate or volunteer, visit: sixnationsfoodbank.com.

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