Community food programmes barely touch the lives of low income families in Toronto — and why should they?

This morning I had a long conversation with Rachel Loopstra, a Canadian researcher now at Oxford University who unfortunately wasn’t able to come to our recent workshop on food poverty.

She told me about some research carried out in her home-city of Toronto, published as Food Insecurity and Participation in Community Food Programs among Low-income Toronto Families in the Canadian Journal of Public Health in 2009.

The researchers surveyed 484 families, two-thirds of whom were ‘food insecure’ over the previous year, and over 25% were ‘severely food insecure’.

I quote from the results:

One third of families participated in children’s food programs but participation was not associated with household food security. One in 20 families used a community kitchen, and participation in community gardens was even lower. It was relatively common for families to delay payments of bills or rent and terminate services as a way to free up money for food and these behaviours were positively associated with food insecurity.

In summary, they found that interventions to do with cooking and food growing weren’t relevant to nearly all food insecure families.

No surprise to me.

Over 20 years ago I was skint. More than skint, and for a few years too. Fling in family stresses and illnesses, precarious income, a large mortgage on an ill-looked after Victorian property at over 15% interest rates, and the damn place with negative equity. Two young mouths to feed as well as my own.

It was often hard, sometimes impossible to pay bills and put food on the table. I juggled debt, did all the usual stuff people do when money is so short and inelastic . . . and felt that continual gnawing, visceral fear familiar everyone in such not unusual circumstances.

During these difficult times, thankfully past, no-one suggested that what I should do is have cookery lessons or grow my own fruit and veg. And yes, of course they’d have got short shrift had they done so.

So why is this so often the response to people in poverty nowadays?



  One thought on “Community food programmes barely touch the lives of low income families in Toronto — and why should they?

  1. Thanks for this, Kate – thought-provoking article. Some thoughts:

    a) may be cheap, easy to arrange, b) could be a small thing to break a big bad cycle, c) some of these issues could relate to isolation so connecting to community is good, d) could be observed poor nutrition from those assessing. Lots of reasons. Now, whether they’re good reasons or right-headed thinking is another matter 😉

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