Food insecurity is a frightening reality for a large number of Hamiltonians.
With the rising cost of food, people throughout the city are left feeling insecure about how, when and what they will be able to eat. The monthly cost of food for a four-person family in Hamilton is estimated at over $700 per month, and over 17,000 people within the city access food banks on a monthly basis.
Food insecurity can mean different things for different people. For some, it can mean a lack of physical, economic and culturally acceptable access to food, and in extreme cases, it can mean that one’s nutritional food intake is too low. It can also refer to a lack of locally grown, sustainable food in one’s city. In all cases, food insecurity is detrimental to the health of those affected.
Hamilton’s Community Food Security Stakeholder Committee reissued a Food Charter for the city in 2014. The charter envisions “a healthy, sustainable and just food system” and seeks to guide municipal policies and community action to raise awareness about farm income, fair food prices and low paying jobs within the food industry.
There are several initiatives implemented throughout the city that raise awareness regarding the issue and help those that are in need of a dependable and sustainable food source on a monthly basis. One of these initiatives is Neighbour to Neighbour.
Neighbour to Neighbour provides emergency food programs for those in need through a food bank in the form of a grocery store. Each person visiting is allocated points to spend on key nutritional items such as meat, dairy and produce, as well as non-perishable food items. This ensures that customers have the agency and comfort of choosing their own groceries for their family.
“When you don’t have enough food, it impacts your health and that impacts society as a whole,” said Charlotte Redekop-Young, Manager of Emergency Food Services at Neighbour to Neighbour. “One in four children [and] one in six adults live below the poverty line [in Hamilton] and that’s an issue for all. We’re all concerned about providing an adequate food supply to those in need.”
Not only is the struggle a prominent issue within the city, it also affects students at McMaster. According to Meal Exchange, a charity aimed to end food insecurity, approximately 39 per cent of Canadian university students are affected by food insecurity. On-campus initiatives like McMaster Bread Bin aim to combat these statistics.
“One in four children [and] one in six adults live below the poverty line [in Hamilton] and that’s an issue for all.”
Manager of Emergency Food Services of Neighbour to Neighbour
A student-run service, Mac BB works towards building stronger food systems within the McMaster and surrounding community. The service offers resources that include an on-campus food bank, a monthly Good Food Box filled with fresh, local produce and anonymous assistance in acquiring non-perishable goods. A community kitchen is also in development. Mac BB also hosts several events and campaigns throughout the year that raise awareness surrounding food security.
“Being food insecure turns the everyday task of feeding oneself into a gigantic burden. It holds individuals back from doing what they would like to do as so much of their time has to be devoted to finding that next meal,” said Daniel Lu, McMaster Bread Bin’s social and political advocacy coordinator.
Several initiatives both on campus and throughout the city are actively searching for volunteers and donations on a monthly basis. Participating in local food drives, community gardening and fundraising for these initiatives go a long way in the process of eradicating hunger in Hamilton.
“Do we want to live in a society where other people are going hungry? Are we comfortable with such disparate circumstances in our community?” said Tahima Shamsheri, McMaster Bread Bin’s other social and political advocacy coordinator.
“A strong community is one that is integrated and organized, one that can mobilize around the sharing of resources to ensure basic standards are met for all of its citizens.”