Household food insecurity continues to increase in Canada. Is the way we talk about it part of the problem?

Grocery Store Shelf

A new study from York University looks at why household food insecurity is getting worse, and if the way we talk about the issue may be contributing to the problem. Currently, more than 1.7 million Canadian families have difficulty accessing adequate food on an ongoing basis.

Researchers Zsofia Mendly-Zambo and Dennis Raphael from York University examined five commons ways of framing discussions about household food insecurity. They wanted to understand if how we talk about household food insecurity affects what we do about it as a society.

Here are the five common ways that we talk about household food insecurity, according to the authors of this study:

1. Nutrition and Dietetics Frame: Focuses on changing individual behaviours, improving nutrition literacy, cooking skills, etc.

2. Charitable Food Distribution Frame: Focuses on providing charity to people who are food insecure, through food banks or soup kitchens, for example

3. Community Development Frame: Focuses on promoting food-oriented community development programs to increase local food supplies, through community kitchens, community gardens and farmer markets, for example

4. Social Determinants of Health Frame: Focuses on Canadians lacking economic resources for purchasing food. Advocates for policy change such as an increase in minimum wage, social assistance, employment training, housing, etc.

5. Political Economy Frame: Focuses on systemic inequality and the role public policy plays in creating food insecurity, through changes in welfare and social policies, for example.

The study concludes that the Political Economy Frame is the best frame for explaining the presence of household food insecurity because it recognizes the role of public policy, and does not focus on individual behaviour changes or charity initiatives. The researchers argue that rising household food insecurity is due to growing social inequalities associated with public policy decisions. They argue that the Political Economy Frame focuses on correcting power imbalances, and encourages advocates to work with social and political movements that promote the equitable distribution of economic and social resources.

More information and to read the full study