Indigenous food security in Canada
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The 1996 World Food Summit stated that food security "exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life" For many Indigenous communities in Canada there is an issue with one or more of aspects of food security. There are many factors that influence food security such as location, level of income, and the climate.
Socioeconomic factors and prevalence
Indigenous peoples are at a higher risk than non-Indigenous peoples to experience food insecurity. Indigenous people have approximately double the chances of a non-Indigenous person to experience some aspect of food insecurity in their lifetime. Food insecurity is directly linked to being in a low-income household. Indigenous people on average experience lower socioeconomic status than non-Indigenous peoples. Since there is no program to incentivise healthy foods in Canada, there is a greater incentive for Indigenous persons to purchase processed foods, which can lead to serious health problems. Foods purchased in grocery stores have become increasingly important to all people but even more so to remote Indigenous communities. The price of foods in grocery stores is also a focal point in food insecurity for Indigenous peoples. In one community it was the consensus that the price of market foods in a northern community are very high and that there needs to be government-implemented policies that will help lower the cost of food in more remote locations. The prevalence of food insecurity is also higher in Inuit households with as much as 80% of families experiencing food insecurity. The high cost of food for Inuit families is also a large concern. In a study conducted it was found that a basket of food for a family of four in Igloolik was $551 and the cost of for the same amount of food for a family in Montreal was $238.
Accessibility and availability
There are many factors that influence the accessibility and availability of food choices. Accessibility and availability of food are the most important aspects of food security. Indigenous food security may be negatively affected by loss of traditional hunting practices. The food supply that comes from hunting and fishing could be declining due to the access to the land and hunting territories. The cost of food is also a determining factor in food availability. The high cost of food maybe a serious issue for low-income families. A talking circle to obtain information firsthand from Indigenous communities about the accessibility to healthy food was conducted in a small northern Ontario community and gives a clearer picture of the reality that these Indigenous families go through to obtain food. The circle concluded there is disconnect with traditional food practices and the younger community that needs to be acknowledged. He stated that the food that the community eats now is causing poor physical and mental health. Other barriers for obtaining a steady diet of traditional food include hunting equipment costs, transportation, and a lack of knowledgeable hunters and fishers are just some of the reasons consumption of traditional food has proven to be difficult. The use of land using non-traditional techniques, such as those found in mining and logging, affect the availability of appropriate food sources. The main concern of the community was the loss of knowledge of traditional food practices between generations. Younger members of the community are not being taught to hunt, fish, gather or prepare the traditional foods that their ancestors ate and that are integral to a strong and healthy community. Increased development also leads to changing animal migration patterns as well as decrease in animal population and this again will influence the amount of land-based food that can be obtained through traditional ways. The location of an Indigenous community has a large impact on the prevalence of food insecurity in that particular place. Northern communities are at a greater disadvantage than Indigenous communities that are located close to urban centers. The price of market food is higher in more remote communities because of transportation costs. It should also be noted that certain Inuit communities are even more disadvantaged than others because climatic changes that affect hunting and fishing have only been recorded in certain communities.
In Nunavut the average life span is approximately 12 years lower than the average Canadian. This is for a number of reasons such as access to healthcare, lower average of socioeconomic standing, poor quality of housing, and the quality of basic services such as drinking water and affordable food. The studies done in this area are very limited but there has been some information collected. The project Climate Change and Health in Nunavik and Labrador looked at the impacts on health in these communities due to changing climates and access to land-based food sources such as fish, geese and seals. There is concern for the senior citizens in these communities because they cannot go and hunt for themselves but still rely on land-based sources of food. Food security for urban Indigenous people is also important to look at. Not having proper access to food can lead to a number of health issues such as low birth weights, developmental delays, depression, anxiety and suicide. These issues are already pressing in Indigenous communities and a lot could be done to help with more equal access to food. High rates of diabetes are a large indicator of the food that Indigenous people are ingesting. There has been a change in diet from traditional foods to European foods and medicine. The members of this northern Ontario Indigenous community[clarification needed] stated their preference for wild meat and berries because they believe it is healthier than store-bought foods. The cost of food is also high unless the person is purchasing processed "junk foods". These types of foods can lead to a decline in physical health and this is not the preferred diet of a traditional Indigenous person. There are certain essential nutrients that are especially of concern in Indigenous diets: protein, zinc, vitamin D, iron, omega 3 fatty acids, and selenium. These influence a person’s physical health as well as their mental and emotional health. The caribou and other traditional foods are excellent sources of these nutrients.
Impact of climate change
Climate change is a serious concern in Canada’s northern territories. This region has already felt the impacts of the change of environment on their food supply. There are very distinctive Indigenous cultural groups in the north and they are the Yukon First Nation, Dene, Metis, Gwich’in, and Inuit. Approximately 70% of Indigenous adults in the North hunt and fish as a means of sustenance and 96% of those adults rely on the food they receive from natural resources. Climate change has been found to have an impacts on the movement of animals and the hunting conditions. Sea ice travel is a main component of hunting for Inuit people. They must travel across ice roads to gain access to wildlife resources. If the ice is not as strong or does not reach as far than this results in less hunting time and a lesser chance of bringing home a substantial amount of food. The implications of less hunting time have a severe effect on the nutritional value of the Inuit diet. The decreased ice road time also hinders the delivery of market foods and increases the price of these staples when other modes of transportation (such as flying) have to be employed. Other weather conditions such as increased winds, higher rainfall records, decreased snowfall, lack of extreme cold temperatures, increased coastal erosion, decreased animal population growth and lower fresh water levels all contribute to food insecurity in certain northern Inuit communities. Establishing a community based food supply is a viable option for northern and remote Indigenous communities because it ensures that everyone is meeting the nutritional needs that are essential for survival. These communities need to adapt to the changing environment or their food security will decline substantially.
- Power, Elaine M., “Conceptualizing Food Security For Aboriginal People in Canada.Canadian Journal of Public Health. March–April 2008: pg. 95-97
- Furgal, Christopher, and Seguin, Jacinthe. "Climate Change, Health, and Vulnerability in Canadian Northern Aboriginal Communities." Environment Health Perspective. Dec 2006: 114(12) pg. 1964-1970
- Abraham, Rwanda, Chambers, Lori, Fiddler, Teri, Socha, Teresa, Zahaf, Mehdi. “Food Security in a Northern First Nations Community: An Exploratory Study on Food Availability and Accessibility.” Journal of Aboriginal Health. March 2002: pg. 5-14.
- Beaumier, Maude, Ford, James D. "Feeding the Family During Times of Stress: Experience and determinants of food insecurity in an Inuit community." The Geographical Journal. March 2011: 177(1) pg. 44-61.
- Chan, Hing, Wesche, Sonia. "Adapting to the Impacts of Climate Change on Food Security among Inuit in the Western Canadian Arctic[permanent dead link]." EcoHealth. September 2010: 7(3), pg. 361-373