A friend and regular reader shared a link to the cookbook Good and Cheap by Leanne Brown with me last week. The book was created as part of her Master’s Thesis and is available for free under a Creative Commons licence. According to Brown, the cookbook was designed to be affordable for people using SNAP (formerly food stamps) in the US. However, I’m sure that most of the recipes would be equally affordable for Canadians on a budget. In addition to being affordable, the recipes are nutritious and appealing. Even if you’re not on a tight budget there’s likely something in here you’d like to try: pumpkin oatmeal, broccoli apple salad, or brussels sprouts hash and eggs perhaps.
Check-out this really neat interactive site on income inequality. I’m earning more than $17, 000 less than the average person like myself. I’m also earning more than $22, 000 less than what I could be if wages had grown with productivity (based on American figures). I’d love to see a Canadian counterpart to this site!
If you’re wondering what this has to do with nutrition… Did you know that income is the number one factor affecting food security? Healthy food tends to be one of the first expenses to go to the way-side when money is tight.
Everyone deserves the right to have access to affordable and healthy food. Unfortunately, many people for many reasons (e.g. lack of transportation, lack of income, lack of time, etc.) do not have easy access to nutritious food. A group of people in the North end of Halifax are competing for an Aviva Community Grant to support a food co-op in their community. Competing ventures win based on votes from the community. Anyone can vote up to 15 times. If you want to vote for this worthy venture click here. The Aviva profile will tell you more about the Community Carrot Co-op and also provides a link to their facebook page for those of you who are into facebook. For those of you, like me, who don’t do facebook but are addicted to twitter, don’t worry they’re on there too: @CarrotHFX. If you’re not on twitter or facebook (what? Do those people even exist??) you can visit their website: http://www.communitycarrot.coop/
A recent study showed that healthy food is actually less expensive than “junk” food. This study eschewed the usual caloric comparison of foods for a portion-based comparison. Based on this comparison the researchers found that many healthy foods are, in fact, cheaper than their less nutritious counterparts. For example, a serving of carrots was found to be less expensive than a serving of potato chips. I agree that healthy food is not necessarily all that expensive and some options (e.g. beans, legumes, and root vegetables) can be quite economical. However, I have several major issues with this study.
Having worked with people experiencing food insecurity I know that the first concern of most of them is getting enough calories into their family members and keeping them as full as possible. So, even if this study is showing that by portion size and by edible weight, healthy foods are less expensive than unhealthy foods this is not how the majority of people who are suffering from food insecurity are thinking. They’re trying to get caloric bang for their buck. Sadly, carrots are not going to give them as many calories for their dollar as pop and hot dogs are.
Even if we accept what the study is telling us, there is a lot more to consider beyond the face-value of these foods. Many of these healthy food items are not ready to eat as is. Do you know anyone who’s going to eat onions straight-up? How about dried chickpeas? These foods require cooking skills, equipment, and additional ingredients (e.g. herbs, spices, oils, etc. to make them palatable). Many people, be they food insecure or not, are lacking in the food skills department and may not have the confidence or knowledge to cook a rutabaga. Do they have a stove to use? What about pots? Knives? Vegetable peelers? All of the additional ingredients and supplies can add a considerable amount of cost to the meal.
Another major issue when it comes to food insecurity is oral health. If your teeth are sore or missing it’s going to be mighty difficult to chow down on raw carrots and apples. Potato chips and spam are much easier to manage when you’re lacking quality teeth.
So, sure, serving for serving some fresh vegetables may be less expensive than “junk” food but food insecurity is not simple math.
UN special rapporteur for food Olivier De Schutter recently came to Canada and pissed off the Canadian government. He was in Canada to spark conversation about food security in our country. Why was our government so pissed off? Well, De Schutter had the gall to point out that Canada has a shamefully high level of food insecurity for such a wealthy nation. He also drew attention to the fact that the gap between the rich and the poor is widening in our country and that means that the number of Canadians struggling to afford a nutritious diet will only continue to grow. The Conservative Canadian government pointed out that we spend loads of money on food aid for developing nations and that De Schutter should be focusing on these good deeds and the needs of those impoverished countries. How nice that, when faced with criticism about poverty and food insecurity at home, our government tries to take the heat off by pointing out that we help poorer nations. That’s just lovely, we can’t afford to pay Canadian citizens enough money to afford a nutritious diet but we can spend billions on aid for other nations. Not that I begrudge those other nations, far from it. I just think that we need to stop turning a blind eye to the situation at home and start coming up with real solutions. Every year we assess the cost of a basic nutritious diet in most provinces, every year we find that many people (e.g. those on social assistance, seniors dependent on Old Age Security and the Guaranteed Income Supplement, and those making minimum wage) are unable to afford even the most basic of nutritious diets. And what do we do about it? We write reports and send them to government officials and then we do it all again the next year. No wonder the UN wouldn’t have us as a member of the Security Council.