Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy: An Opportunity for an Integrated Approach to Food Security

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Author: Jennifer Cao

Posted: October 21, 2013

Categories: Edible Education Network / Good Food Ideas for Kids / GoodFoodBites / News from Sustain Ontario / Policy News / Schools

The renewal of Ontario’s Poverty Reduction Strategy is underway. The previous strategy, ‘Breaking the Cycle’ launched five years ago.

Alleviating hunger plays a major role in the reduction of poverty.  The Ontario Poverty Reduction Strategy presents an opportunity for the collaborative creation of effective and positive change through long-term programs to address hunger.

The Government of Ontario recently announced its commitment to Student Nutrition Programs with an additional 3 million dollars in funding, including for First Nations communities. This is another step towards helping Ontario build a Student Nutrition Program that provides healthy meals and snacks to all students in schools (as opposed to one that only provides food to students that meet the indicators of poverty). These inclusive programs empower low-income, vulnerable students by providing access to nutritious meals, and ensuring that children and youth focus on school and not hunger and stigma.

Food literacy is also critical to public health. The initiation and funding of food education and health based programs in Ontario schools would greatly benefit children and youth across the province. Childhood obesity negatively affects children, their families, and ultimately the province; costing about $4.5 billion per year ($1.6 billion directly and $2.6 billion indirectly according to the recently released Healthy Kids Strategy). Teaching students how to grow and prepare nutritious food would provide valuable and fundamental skills, helping children and youth to continue to make healthy food choices throughout their lives.

Families require access to healthy, fresh and culturally appropriate food every day. The implementation of an Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy would ensure an integrated and complementary approach to the reduction of hunger and related chronic diseases, while addressing various issues linked to household food insecurity including adequate wages, affordable housing, childcare, education and public transportation. Policies and social services that support low-income residents are integral to poverty reduction.

The following are some measures that the Government of Ontario could put in place to support a more sustainable, healthy and equitable food system, and the health and well-being of its citizens:

Increase Individual and Household Food Security

  • Put in place measures to ensure that families have access to fresh and healthy food regardless of their socioeconomic status.
  • Support the implementation of an Ontario Food and Nutrition Strategy.
  • Support policies to improve individual and household income, to enable low-income residents to afford healthy food (e.g. adequate minimum wage and social service allotment, affordable housing, affordable childcare, seniors care, public transportation, education and training, and employment).
  • Ensure access to nutritious food for all Ontarians by using the cost of the Nutritious Food Basket (calculated annually by each Public Health Unit) in determining the rates for social assistance and the minimum wage and in the formation of ODSP/Social Diet Allowance payouts.
  • Support community food programs (initiatives that help individuals and families not only access healthy food but also learn how to prepare it and make healthy food choices).

Continue to Provide Support for and Expand the Ontario Student Nutrition Program

  • Continue to support Student Nutrition Programs until all Ontario schools have the funds and infrastructure needed to run a Student Nutrition Program that is accessible to every child and youth through a cost-sharing model.
  • To complement Student Nutrition Programs, continue to implement policies that ensure the procurement of local, fresh and sustainable foods into schools, addressing the nutritional needs of children and youth with the additional benefit of supporting Ontario’s economy.  The Local Food Fund ($30 M over 3 years) can help address these multiple objectives as well as the food distribution and logistics co-ordinators that will be hired across the province.

Support Food Literacy, Especially in the School Setting

  • Fund and support other education and health-based programs, such as school gardens and food skills and culinary programs; promote other curriculum opportunities; and provide related teacher training.  These could be linked to the Student Nutrition Program so that children and youth understand where food comes from, the impacts of food on health as well as the environment and the economy, and how to grow, prepare, and prefer healthy, safe and nutritious food.  These would help give children and youth the knowledge and skills needed to support lifelong healthy eating habits and to access healthier food.  Such an approach would collectively help address the problems of child and youth hunger, obesity and food insecurity.

A variety of approaches will be needed to ensure that all families have access to healthy food.  This will involve, at the forefront, significant inter-ministerial collaboration to bring about a healthy food system.  It will involve advancing a number of the policy initiatives that are currently underway in an integrated manner, including the the Healthy Kids Strategy, Education Strategy, and Local Food Act.

Please refer to Sustain Ontario’s Food Literacy Backgrounder, the Healthy Kids Strategy and the Ontario Edible Education Network for more details and information about these issues.

Download Sustain Ontario’s written submission to Ministers Teresa Piruzza and Ted McMeekin.