I spend my summers in Haliburton, ON, which is not a rich cottage town. Sure, it may seem like it during holiday weekends, when you can see Porsche SUVs and refurbished vintage cars driving down the main street. But for the rest of the year, it is not the glamorous place it pretends to be. The average household income is $67,564, compared to $71,540 across Ontario, in 2010 (StatCan). It may not seem like much, but it makes a difference. There are people in Haliburton that sometimes have to choose between eating that day and being dressed for the weather. Parents are forced to give up their own meals so that their children have something to eat. In comparison to other parts of North America, however, Haliburton doesn’t even have it that bad. At least we’re not in a food desert…
A food desert is an area that does not have access to fresh food each day. There are no supermarkets within reasonable distance, so residents shop at convenience stores, which often don’t carry fresh produce. The supermarkets that carry fresh foods are usually within driving distance for most – the only problem is, if you don’t have a car (which many low-income families don’t) then you’re forced to take public transit, which can take sometimes over an hour. When you’re working all day and have kids to take care of, this is time you cannot afford to waste. So, you go to the local convenience store and buy frozen and packaged food. Food that is full of preservatives and you know isn’t good for you, but it’s better than going hungry. And why buy a litre of milk for a few dollars when you can buy sugary pop 99¢ instead? To you and me, the difference in these prices may not seem like a lot, but to many people it can make or break the budget for the month.
The reason obesity is so prevalent in North America isn’t solely related to splurging on unhealthy food – in fact, it’s the opposite. Obesity and poverty are closely linked to each other. Less expensive foods are pre-packaged, full of preservatives, and usually full of carbs and sugars that keep you full until the next meal. It’s no good, but it’s what is available. To combat obesity, we need to first combat poverty. Look to where the signs are pointing. Making sure each household has enough money in their pocket to be able to feed all the member of their family – and feed them well – is the first step in battling obesity. Making fresh food, such as produce and meats, accessible to everyone regardless of their location or financial status, means making health accessible to everyone. You need to eat three times a day, so let’s make that possible. Breaking down the financial barriers to fresh food is the beginning to ensuring our towns and cities are not going hungry. If kids aren’t hungry at school, who knows what they might achieve?
Emma — The Suburban Aggie
PS, Food accessibility is a subject I am very passionate about, and I have many more things to write about it. I’ll be coming back to this subject in the future, but in the meantime check out this documentary about poverty and obesity in America: