Wednesday August 27, 2014

Food banks in Canada seem wrong

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If one thing confuses me about Canada it is the growing need for food banks.

The Canadian Prairies became famous decades ago as ‘the bread basket of the world’ for its ability to produce high quality wheat which was exported as food around the world.

We still grow wheat as efficiently as any country but our production is today, so much more diverse, being leading exports of canola and pulse crops.

We also export much of the beef and pork we produce.

The fact Canada exports agriculture production to the world speaks to our shared agrarian roots.

With such roots almost all of us are still only a generation or two, removed from farm life, a life which meant most of our forefathers produced not just for export, but their own food as well.

Chicken coops and milk cows and large gardens were simply part of every farm and assured there was food in the ice house and cellar.

When the rural exodus to city life began just after the end of the First World War, a trend continuing to this day, most people took the idea of a family garden with them. They were what everyone had in backyards across this country.

Today though, as the generations have progressed, the connection to the farm has become more distant.

The interest in, and knowledge of, how to grow a garden has slipped away from most people, not just in big cities, but in towns and villages and even on many farms.

The idea of harvesting food to feed ourselves and our families has seemingly dissipated.

We have somehow become reliant on supermarkets as our source for our ‘daily bread’.

In Canada it is understandable that we trust food will be on the shelves when we go to buy it. We have a well-ran food system from farm field to store shelf which has long proved itself reliable and safe.

But the food in a store still comes with a price tag.

And that means for some when the cupboard is bare, the wallet is also empty, and hunger ensues.

That is why we have food banks and soup kitchens and similar programs in communities across the country.

Sadly the number of people needing such services seems to be growing.

It is understandable why; we have seen housing costs rise in many communities, Alberta and British Columbia a number of years ago seeing prices rise dramatically, a trend now being seen in Saskatchewan.

When mortgage or rent payments climb, budgets get squeezed.

We have also seen most communities instituting annual municipal tax hikes in the face of growth and infrastructure renewal costs.

Mix in water rate increases, environmental garbage collection fee hikes, higher rates for electricity and natural gas and budgets tighten ever farther.

We may be in a vibrant economy, with job expectations, but for many, especially those in entry level jobs, pay cheques do not always stretch through an entire month.

Rent, power, natural gas, water, are bills which demand payment or services will simply be turned off, or a renter evicted.

So what costs end up shorted? Often it’s food.

In a country as rich as Canada, with its strong agrarian heritage, hunger is something which seems far out of place. It is not something we should expect, nor is it something we should tolerate.

Food banks serve a purpose, and we should support what they do.

But ultimately, we as Canadians need to address the root issue, how to empower everyone in ways to ensure they can put good, nutritious food on the table, without ever having to turn to food banks for help.

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