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Addressing Homelessness and Poverty

Nutrition Advice only Works for Those Who Can Afford Good Food

Karen Giesbrecht

Karen Giesbrecht

Co-chair, the Dietitians of Canada Food Insecurity Network and Practice with Vulnerable Communities in Vancouver, British Columbia.

Lillian Yin

Lillian Yin

Co-chair, the Dietitians of Canada Food Insecurity Network and Practice with Vulnerable Communities in Vancouver, British Columbia.


Between pandemic recovery, inflation, housing costs, extreme weather patterns, declining mental health, and other challenges, we are seeing new vulnerabilities and people at risk of food insecurity who were not previously in need of food or financial aid. Pre-COVID, an estimated one in eight Canadians (12.5%) were food insecure , meaning they did not have the income to purchase enough food to stave off hunger, or follow nutrition recommendations, let alone make special food for a celebration, or host friends for a meal. We now think it is closer to one in six Canadians (16%) .

Food insecurity is a serious and avoidable public health issue. The Dietitians of Canada Household Food Insecurity Network is a network of dietitians from across the country that facilitate ongoing collaboration necessary for addressing this complex challenge. All households in Canada should have the resources necessary to secure basic needs, including access to foods that support physical, mental, social, and spiritual well-being.

Food charity and rescuing food that would otherwise go to waste is not the solution to food insecurity. These efforts provide social benefits, and every meal makes a difference for those facing acute hunger and isolation, but food charity does not eliminate poverty, nor does it always have positive environmental benefits. Rescued food is often undignified and is not consistently culturally appropriate. It may offset greenhouse gasses emissions by keeping good food from going to waste, but its use also produces emissions through transporting, refrigerating, and redistributing that food.

We do know what will make a difference: policies that ensure adequate income for everyone. These include social supports like the Child Benefit, minimum wages, Employment Insurance, disability assistance, and pensions. Having stable housing where one can store and prepare meals is also essential. As is accessible, affordable food, particularly in remote communities. Addressing the root causes of poverty will benefit all Canadians, as this will foster healthy communities where we can all thrive.

It is also critical to have Indigenous community-led initiatives that address the unique challenges related to food security, such as fair resolution of disputes over access to lands and resources, and adequate education and employment opportunities for Indigenous Peoples in urban, rural, and remote environments.

As dietitians across Canada, we want our clients, neighbors, and families to eat well. We bring expertise in health and food systems and collaborate with community partners and with people with lived experiences of poverty. Whether we find ourselves in a healthcare setting, the community, business, agriculture, or media, we can all stand in solidarity and work to address gaps in the economic and social systems and create a nourishing home for us all.

To support and learn more about First Nations, Inuit + Metis led solutions to address poverty and food insecurity, please look to the following resources;

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