Many of the community's "working poor" appear to be getting their food from convenience stores instead of grocery stores, according the results of a recent survey.
"One possible reason for the use of convenience stores and dollar stores to buy food might be the lower upfront costs as compared to grocery stores," according to a report prepared by the Brant Food System Coalition in partnership with the Brant County Health Unit that was presented to city councillors Tuesday night.
"Despite food from convenience stores and dollar stores being less in quantity and poorer in quality, the lower upfront cost may be a key factor for people who are on a limited budget."
The coalition is urging further exploration of the issue.
The survey, conducted between July 2015 and April 2016, aimed to determine the barriers to getting food and to identify where people get food as well as gauge the awareness and interest in food-related programs. It followed a 2013-14 study by the health unit that found that 10 per cent of Brant households experience some degree of food insecurity.
The survey, completed by 309 people, also found higher incomes and improved access to transportation would help those who sometimes have difficulty securing enough food. It is not considered representative of the whole community because the respondents were clients of local food programs.
Most of the respondents were aged 20 to 39 and were single without dependents.
About 28 per cent said they were recovering from an illness or had a disability, while about 22 per cent said they were working either full- or part-time.
Almost half of respondents with jobs found it hard to get enough food sometimes or all the time, the survey found. Such individuals likely would be considered "working poor" -- people who don't earn enough money to live on, the report says.
"The survey results support the need for employers to pay a living wage for people to be able to lead a healthy, productive life, or a poverty reduction strategy such as the basic income guarantee," the report says.
The cost of food also was a factor in some people not being able to get enough food, the report noted.
Despite the challenges, there is reason for optimism, Carol Haberman, a public health dietitian at the health unit, told councillors,
"There are exciting things happening with respect to the local food system," said Haberman, citing the Brant Food Forum and the Action Against Poverty Forum.
There is also plan to develop an initiative to help bring food closer to those who are in need and have trouble getting to grocery stores, she said.
As well, the community is also part of the province's basic income pilot project.
"It will be interesting to see how that impacts food insecurity," she told councillors.
Haberman was also asked if an increase in the provincial minimum wage would help address some of the local challenges.
"It's a good question but there are a lot of other factors that come into play," Haberman said. "I can't really say.
"We'll have to wait and see."
Haberman was also asked if she sees a lot of abuse of local programs that provide food to those in need.
"There may be a small number who may take advantage of the system but what I see is people in crisis," said Haberman, adding that she would like to see a time when food banks were no longer necessary.
Going forward, the coalition aims to work with poverty reduction groups, continue to educate the public about the link between poverty and food insecurity and adapt food-related programs to meet local needs.
Brantford Expositor 2017
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