Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Disparity in a Prosperous Land: Getting Enough Affordable, Good Quality Food Is Difficult in Remote Aboriginal Communities

Magazine article Alternatives Journal

Disparity in a Prosperous Land: Getting Enough Affordable, Good Quality Food Is Difficult in Remote Aboriginal Communities

Article excerpt

THEY MAY COMPLAIN about the cost of groceries, but few Canadians have to worry about food supply. Fruits and vegetables are plentiful and of high quality. The selection is endless, and there are numerous stores to choose from.

Visiting or living in a remote Aboriginal community, however, changes your perspective on food. Fly-in northern towns often have only one grocery store and their goods arrive by airplane. The result is costly, poor quality food that lacks variety and is in limited supply.

My first experience working in communities on the west coast of James Bay was an eye-opener. Bananas cost $7.49/lb (versus $0.59/lb in Southern Ontario), while yellow peppers fetched $14.79/lb from the few who could afford them (versus $3.99/lb in Southern Ontario). The apples were so bruised it seemed as if they'd been dropped from the airplane. Simply put, it was a challenge to find nutritious food.

Canadian data on food security included in the 1999 National Population Health Survey include only Aboriginal people living off-reserve. Yet, even with this incomplete data, and despite being dated, the numbers are alarming: off-reserve Aboriginal households are four-times more likely to have a compromised diet than Canadians in general.

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This result, no doubt, is linked to poverty. For many families the sad reality is that the grocery budget is flexible, whereas other bills (e.g. rent, phone, hydro) are not.

The Canadian Food Mail Program is one solution to food security problems in the North. It pays part of the cost of flying nutritious perishable food to remote northern communities. Unfortunately, it's not clear if the program is succeeding. Despite the subsidy, surveys suggest the food still costs at least twice as much in remote northern communities as in their southerly neighbours. …

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