Food Access…Exploring Gaps

This is not news… we know that sufficient, safe and nutritious food is critical to the health and well-being of us all. Unfortunately, half a million British Columbians can’t afford a basic healthy diet. This was outlined in the Food Costing in BC report (2017) and powerful infographic.

Within the North Okanagan, home to around 85,000 residents, we know that 15 percent of people in our communities are low income, meaning their after-tax income is $22,460 or less. In the Interior Health region 14 percent of households’ experience food insecurity. Yet, low income is not the only factor affecting access to healthy local food in our region.

It’s evident that even though we live in a region of diverse and productive foodlands, food access is impacted by a wide range of factors including: poverty, transportation, access to land for traditional hunting, fishing, and gathering, social isolation, and a lack of skills and knowledge.

In the work that we do at Land to Table we find that there is a lot to know, packed into terms like food insecurity and food access – all referring to different aspects of a bigger food security and food system picture.

In our upcoming forum on February 8th titled Bridging Gaps: Exploring local food access in the North Okanagan we will build our understanding of the complex issue of improving access to healthy local food in our region by asking questions like: What can we do about household food insecurity? How do we address the fact that the cost of local food can be a barrier? How do we get more local fresh food in schools, institutions, and community programs? What would make local food more convenient? How can access to traditional foods and knowledge be increased?

To help prime the pump so to speak, let’s take a moment to break down some of these terms that will be discussed at the forum:

Food access simply put refers to how and from where we get our food (and where the food is grown). Access includes physical, social and economic factors that influence food security. It’s easy to understand how we can make food more physically accessible by having markets and grocery stores close to where people live and open at times when most people can access them. However, we also must consider other factors such as cultural preferences, food literacy, food practices, access to land for hunting and fishing, availability of food/cooking programs, opportunities to eat together, and individual barriers such as mobility. And of course, without enough money to buy food, the quality and/or quantity of food available to households can be significantly impacted.

Household food insecurity can be defined as “the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints” at the individual level whereas, food security considers a community perspective and scale and takes into account the entire food system, including food access. These terms can be confusing; food insecurity is not simply the opposite of food security. While actions to strengthen the economic viability and sustainability of our food system help to increase community food security, policy work to increase a household’s income is the best way to lower food insecurity rates. We need both action on food and action on income to achieve community food security.

And just to make sure we are covering all bases…a food system is an interconnected network of practices, processes and places that cover all aspects of food, from production through to processing, distribution, consumption, and finally, waste management. The food system comes in many sizes from the global to the local food system.

Land to Table endeavors to create space where all of these complex issues can be explored, with voices heard from across the food system, where innovative ideas can lead to action. We hope you can join us at our upcoming forum, Bridging Gaps – Exploring Local Food Access in the North Okanagan.