This post is a reprint of an article in the Spring 2018 PEN by former Environmental Studies practicum student Jordan Heer.
In Nunavut, approximately 45% of households are food insecure. The other Canadian Territories share similar, shocking, statistics. Compare these to the national rate of food insecurity – 12%- and it becomes evident that there is a disconnect.
What causes this great disparity and what has and is being done to mitigate the issue that causes over 60% of youth in Nunavut to be food insecure? The main driver of food insecurity in the Canadian North is price; the price of necessities can be three or more times the national average, including items like milk, eggs, fruits, vegetables, and other household staples. For other food items that aren’t considered staples, the price difference compared to the rest of Canada can be even more drastic.
The reason for the astronomical food prices in the Canadian North has to do with isolation and lack of infrastructure. Many communities in the far north are small, made up of only a couple hundred or thousand people, with their closest neighbor’s beings hundreds or thousands of kilometers away, with no roads connecting them. The only mode of transportation between these remote communities is by snowmobile in the winter months, small airplanes, and occasionally the use of ice roads, ATV’s or boats. This means that communities rely on small food deliveries on an infrequent basis, either by plane, ice road, or boat for some of the larger communities, with each of these options presenting its own unique set of challenges.
For example, ice road delivery is at the mercy of the sea ice, so if it is a warm season a community may not be able to safely receive food delivery by truck. On the other hand, boat shipments are only available during a short window in the summer months when the sea ice is lowest, opening up more navigable water. Boat shipments are the most inexpensive way to ship large amounts of non-perishables to the North, but are often delayed due to the unpredictability of sea ice.
Finally, there is airplane delivery of fresh foods. Although still dictated by weather, it is often the most reliable and common way of getting food, especially perishable goods such as fruit, to the North, but it is expensive. Planes that are flown to the north are usually smaller in size, meaning they can’t carry as much cargo as they would if delivering to a large city.
What is being done about this apparently critical issue to life in the North? The truth is, there is a lot of talk, but not much action taking place. The government has acknowledged the issue that faces northern families and their communities, but prices have remained high and continue to rise. There are also a few small organizations who are working to alleviate some of the stresses of high food costs.
A promising change for those in the North who struggle to afford food due to the
increased price may be a push transitioning off of imported western foods to traditional food which can be hunted, harvested or gathered locally.
Many people have argued that this is the solution for more than one issue facing those living in remote communities (the majority of whom are Inuit). A transition to traditional food would not only reduce the need to purchase price inflated foods which in many cases are not affordable, it also presents an opportunity for those of Inuit heritage to reconnect with their culture.
Reconnecting with the traditional culture in the North is important for health reasons; physically, mentally and spiritually. Inuit youth in Northern Canada are often food insecure, and therefore are unable to get proper nutrition due to financial constraints. Studies have linked food insecurity to mental health issues such as depression, something which is common in the Territories.
The hope is that transitioning to traditional food sources may benefit Northerners physically, financially, and mentally.
Editor’s Note: The issue of northern
food insecurity in Ontario was
addressed in the public consultation
phase of the most recent round
of Ontario Budget Talks, which
approved funding for a pilot project
for youth-lead greenhouses growing
produce in Northern Ontario. The
hope is that this will also address
youth unemployment and suicide
risks in this vulnerable area. More
under Healthy Living.