Research out of York University identifies barriers to addressing the food insecurity crisis in Canada

Research out of York University helps explain why, despite the more than 1.7-million Canadian families experiencing difficulties accessing adequate food on an ongoing basis, governmental authorities are doing little to address the root cause of this situation, which is the inequitable distribution of economic and social resources. This neglect continues despite ongoing rebukes by the United Nations to Canada for failing to address this crisis.

Zsofia Mendly-Zambo

Zsofia Mendly-Zambo, a PhD student in Health Policy and Equity in the Faculty of Health, and Professor Dennis Raphael, of the School of Health Policy and Management, co-authored an article in the Cambridge University Press journal Social Policy and Society that shows how dominant ways of explaining the sources of food insecurity and hunger, and means of responding to these problems, divert attention from the bad public policy that creates it.

The study, “Competing Discourses of Household Food Insecurity in Canada,” shows how well-meaning food security advocates mislead the public into believing that individually oriented health education campaigns, charitable efforts such as children’s feeding programs and food banks, and community-based programs such as community kitchens and gardens are addressing this crisis. Not only do these approaches do little to address the immediate problem of improving access to food, they serve to divert attention from the bad public policy that make so many Canadians unable to access food. The authors argue that food insecurity and hunger are caused by the same public policies that create housing insecurity and homelessness, precarious low-waged work and poverty.

Dennis Raphael

Mendly-Zambo and Raphael see the source of these crises as the growing imbalance in power between the corporate and business sector and the majority of Canadians whose economic fortunes are stagnating due to regressive changes in taxation, social welfare, and labour policy. They call for linking food security advocacy with broader movements concerned with growing inequality in Canada.

“The last 20 years have seen a growing imbalance in the distribution of economic and political power in Canada, with growing food insecurity and hunger being one of the results,” said Mendly-Zambo. “We call for placing food insecurity and hunger within the broader question of how governing authorities are meeting the economic and social needs of Canadians. By linking the food crisis with improving living and working conditions in general, we provide a direction for educating and mobilizing the general population around the need for equity-related public policy.”

The study can be read online at