Why are so many Canadians still going hungry?

The world’s current overabundance of food means more people can afford more processed foods and expensive sources of protein.

That’s great – for the populations able to increase their calories and the variety of food they enjoy, and for Canadian agriculture and agri-food producers who supply a large chunk of global demand. Importing some of the highest values of food in the world, Canada also enjoys the world’s best offerings of safe, reliable, nutritious food.

Unfortunately, that’s not true of all Canadians.

Despite Canada’s perennial status as a country with one of the highest quality-of-life rankings, Food Banks Canada estimate 13% of Canadians face food insecurity. Over 850,000 visit a food bank every month.

The problem isn’t necessarily food availability. Low income contributes a lot to Canadians’ food insecurity.

The issue starts with income gains. The upper 10% of Canadian households saw their household income increase 47.7% when adjusted for inflation between 1981 and 2014. Starting out with a lot less, the bottom 10% of income-earning households increased their income 1.0% in real terms. That means households that were poor in 1981 would have trouble by 2014 buying any particular item whose cost rose faster than the price of inflation.

It’s now harder for poor households to buy food

Between 1981 and 2007, the price of food increased at a pace lower than the rate of inflation. Whatever food households could afford in 1981 – which, granted, may not have been sufficient – they could still afford the same in 2007.

Between 2008 and 2014 however, the cost of food increased faster than the rate of inflation. Food CPI increased 17.1%, while general inflation rose 9.7%. Between 2008 and 2015, fresh fruits and vegetables alone increased 31.1% compared to an 11% rise in general inflation.

Given the pace of food inflation during the last eight years, with the largest gain in 2015, there are now more food-insecure households than ever.