Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
I was in the middle of my exams, stressed and anxious. The amount of revision left was overwhelming. I stretched on the floor of my tiny room, and subconsciously ventured to the kitchen for a “snack” – partially out of stress, but mostly out of rumbling hunger pangs. However, my “snacking” options were very limited.I could either treat myself to a boiled egg on toast or baked beans on toast. The trouble was these food items were for dinner later that night, and the next day respectively. If I decided to have one at this odd hour, I’d potentially be starving myself later.
Another incident I vividly remember involves a friend inviting me to a nearby café during university. I had no idea where we were headed, and visibly panicked at the sight of an eatery. Masking my shame and stress at the prospect of spending bills and book money on food, I ordered the cheapest item on the menu. But what seems reasonable now was existential to a struggling student from a low-income background. I was used to daily surviving on beans on toast. By saving face then, I paid the price through meal-skipping for a good few days later.
Food insecurity was a real problem during that part of my life, especially at university.
Growing up in a lower-income family meant that things at home were quite stressful. Mum worked multiple jobs to make ends meet, while Dad’s blood sugar levels were severely unregulated. We might have not always had nutritious meals, but Mum tried her best to make sure we never went hungry. Things at home were almost always uncertain, and our relationships both in and outside of the house were deteriorating. However, life took even more of a drastic turn when I was forced to leave home. On top of fighting low-income battles, I now struggled to put food on my plate.
If you’ve ever experienced the misfortunes of food insecurity because of low-income, then you’re probably familiar with the above situation. Think for a second how difficult it is for an adult to bear hunger, but for a child, it is particularly soul-crushing.
What is Food Insecurity
Simply put, food insecurity is a lack of access to affordable and nutritious food. The causes of food insecurity usually stem from a low income or an uncertain financial situation. In Canada alone, one in seven households are food insecure, amounting to over 4.4 million people. This includes more than 1.2 million children living in food-insecure households.
In such situations, families must make the kind of tough decisions nobody ever should. They sound something along the lines of “should I pay the rent, pay the bills, pay off student loans, buy books, buy medicine or buy nutritious food?” It is a terrible predicament – one, I am all too familiar with.
Food insecurity usually comprises three key components:
1) The unavailability of nutritious and fresh food
2) Healthy food items are unaffordable
3) People do not have reliable access to said foods
However, the negative effects of food insecurity are far bigger than just hunger. Nutritious food is the scientific magic spell that people require for mental strength and physical agility. It significantly helps them to perform their day-to-day activities. Children in food-insecure households are more likely to be impoverished, which directly impacts their learning abilities and growth. Poverty often stops people from purchasing the healthiest, most nutritious food options for several diverse reasons. These can include multiple jobs resulting in lack of prep time, or the fact that ultra-processed food items are largely cheaper.
Therefore, it’s important for us to realize the significance of organizations examining possible solutions to food insecurity. I am proud to say that Community Food Centres Canada is one such charity doing brilliant work. Their aim is to eliminate poverty, food insecurity and improve the overall health and well-being of low-income Canadians. The charity mainly aims to achieve this by funding innovative Community Food Centres and programs based on a ‘street-level’ approach to tackling poverty; encouraging people to connect with their neighbours, and play their part in bringing about a more just and inclusive Canada.
This year, Community Food Centres Canada (CFCC) is running a crucial campaign called The Big Social. It’s a national event bringing Canadians together over food, while raising funds for low-income communities in a safe and socially distanced environment.
At a time where a sense of community and togetherness is more valuable than ever, the funds raised by the campaign will reach food programs and services that benefit people living on lower wages.
Canada, like most countries around the globe, has been deeply impacted by the global health crisis. It’s mentally taxing to self-isolate or quarantine surrounded by food, but for many Canadians struggling with job losses and food insecurity, we must understand how particularly overwhelming it is.
Therefore, CFCC and The Big Social are committed to combatting food insecurity and to bring about positive change. And here’s how YOU can too!
Visit bigsocial.ca to register to host. Next, set a fundraising goal for your dinner, and send out a digital invite to your family and friends to join and support low-income communities through donations.
Alternatively, visit my charity page, here. For your kind donation, I will gift you a meal plan of your choice from my shop. 100% of proceeds will go to Community Food Centres Canada, and the meal plan will be sent out as an instant download. All my recipes consist of easy, delicious and nutritious ingredients, which is exactly what the Big Social is about.
92% of food-insecure Canadians say that Community Food Centres Canada provides an important source of healthy food, whereas 76% say their mental and physical health has improved. And according to the Big Social, just $50 can provide fresh fruit and vegetables for an entire family.
For some of us who’ve been fortunate enough to hold on to our jobs and put food on the table in the midst of these trying times, it’s a lovely way to donate a small chunk of our savings towards putting food on somebody else’s table. After all, social isolation did halt dining out, unscheduled coffee hours, regular gym memberships and travelling expenses. Therefore, this is the perfect opportunity to gather our family and friends digitally and enjoy a meal for a cause.
Adults and children need to have timely access to nutritious food, in a manner that’s dignified, efficient and sufficient both in terms of quality and quantity. Nobody should ever be in a difficult position of compromising their physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. And slowly but surely, we can make sure that never happens. Remember: share food, change lives.
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Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she’s dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.