Higher food insecurity for Black families

FoodShare executive director Paul Taylor, left, and Leslie Campbell, director of programs released findings from a joint research project with the University of Toronto that shows a direct correlation between race and food insecurity in Canada.

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Black families twice as likely to go hungry as white households, study shows

Laurie Monsebraaten

By Laurie MonsebraatenSocial Justice ReporterWed., Oct. 23, 2019timer5 min. read

Black households in Canada are almost twice as likely as white households to have trouble putting food on the table due to lack of money, according to groundbreaking new research based on Statistics Canada’s community health survey.

This is the case even when Black people are homeowners and have the same income, education levels and household makeup as white people, said Leslie Campbell, director of programs for FoodShare, which partnered with the University of Toronto on the research.

The data shows for the first time that there is a direct correlation between race and food insecurity, independent of all other factors, said Campbell, who presented the findings at a FoodShare conference on food justice and equity on Wednesday. 

“When you look at the whole population, there are certain factors that are seen as being protective,” Campbell said in an interview. “But when you look only at the Black population … all of a sudden, they don’t apply.”

“For example, while it matters greatly for white folks whether your household is headed by a single parent, for Black households, you have a significantly higher probability of food insecurity regardless of your household composition,” Campbell said.

The study suggests “there are other factors — structural barriers that Black communities are having to navigate — that mean the rules don’t apply in the same way when it comes to protection,” he said.

The findings impact everyone, he told the conference. That is because people in households struggling to pay for food cost Ontario’s health care system an average of $3,930 annually, more than twice as much as those in households where food is plentiful, who cost the system an average of $1,608. 

The findings are based on data pooled from five Canadian community health surveys from 2004 to 2014 and include responses from almost 500,000 individuals. The study focuses on respondents who answered all the questions on household food security and who reported their ethno-racial identity as either Black or white.

The survey, which asks 18 questions related to food and hunger, defines “food insecurity” as marginal, moderate or severe.

Leslie Campbell, director of programs for FoodShare, said Black households have a significantly higher probability of food insecurity, regardless of household composition.

People in households that are marginally food-insecure are worried about running out of money to buy food. Moderate food-insecure households may struggle to buy enough food, or have to skimp on quality and nutrition. People in households experiencing severe food insecurity are missing meals due to lack of income.

According to the analysis, one in eight Canadian households — or four million people — is experiencing food insecurity. But when broken down into white and Black households — before adjusting for income, education and other factors — just 10 per cent of white households are food-insecure, while more than 28 per cent of Black households have trouble affording the food they need, the study found. After adjusting for external factors, Black households are still 1.88 times more likely to have trouble paying for the food they need, the study found.

The picture looks even bleaker for kids. While just over 12 per cent of white children are food-insecure, almost 34 per cent of Black kids — one in three — are struggling, the data shows. Food insecurity among children is linked to learning problems, greater difficulty recovering from illness and long-term health problems such as depression and asthma, according to the study.

“I have to say, I was a bit heartbroken to see how bad it was, in particular for Black children,” said Valerie Tarasuk, principal investigator for U of T’s PROOF Food Insecurity Policy Research program.

“Even after taking into account things like income and home ownership and education, we still find a substantial differential” between Black and white households, she said in an interview.

“This study says it matters for us to get a grip on race issues in Canada,” she said.

“I think our study really screams that there needs to be much, much more attention (paid) to the ways in which governments at all levels can use their policy levers to offset what has to be a fairly significant level of race-based discrimination in the workplace, the housing market, the education system, in corrections and other places,” she added.

Home ownership is seen as a buffer to food insecurity because households facing a sudden loss of income or an unexpected expense can borrow against the value of their homes to make ends meet.

“But when you compare the Black homeowner to the white, they have way less protection,” Tarasuk said.

In fact, the study found the risk of food insecurity among Black homeowners was the same as for a white renter, she noted. 

The only explanation is that Black households have lower-value homes or carry higher mortgages, or both, she said.

“It’s another illustration of the ways in which accumulated wealth in our country is racialized,” Tarasuk said.

Among all Canadians who experience food insecurity, the study found that 62 per cent are employed.

Since income is the largest single protective factor that determines whether a household has trouble paying for food, Campbell said the study findings point to the lower quality of Black employment.

Jobs without benefits and part-time, contract and other forms of precarious employment impact a household’s ability to afford food, he said.

Quality of employment isn’t just about whether people are contract or full-time employees, Campbell added. It also relates to a worker’s position and salary.

FoodShare advocates for equitable access to fresh, healthy, affordable food for everyone and partners with schools and community groups to provide low-cost, locally sourced fruits and vegetables through student nutrition programs, neighbourhood gardens, local markets and other initiatives.

The non-profit organization recently raised the salaries of its lowest-paid employees by 25 per cent to reduce pay inequities, said executive director Paul Taylor. The agency also tries to ensure diverse populations are included in recruitment efforts.

A universal basic income would help people experiencing severe food insecurity, Taylor said.

“But more holistically, we really need to look at systemic discrimination in housing, education, policing and employment that all disproportionately, it seems, have an impact on Black folks,” he said. 

The collection of more race-based data — particularly related to employment — would be a good place to start, he added.

Source: Toronto Star

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