Advancing Food Insecurity Research in Canada - PROOF Conference Takeaways

On November 17 and 18 in Toronto, almost 200 researchers and advocates from Canada and abroad met at the first PROOF conference, Advancing Food Insecurity Research in Canada, to discuss one of the most intractable issues facing our country: the growing number of Canadians who have trouble putting food on the table. That four million Canadians struggle with food insecurity has been a catalyst for increased collaboration between academics and community groups, who are finding better ways to work together toward policies aimed at solving this problem.


The two days provided presentations and discussions on numerous income- and community-based solutions to food insecurity. Chief among these was basic income. Basic income — which would set an income floor beneath which no Canadian could fall — has been proposed by prominent economists, politicians, and social activists for decades and piloted in five North American regions, including Manitoba (and soon Ontario and possibly Quebec). Any Canadian whose income fell below a certain level would receive a top-up through the tax system, effectively ensuring that no Canadian would ever again have to try to make a life on shockingly low social assistance rates or on low wages from precarious work.

We know already that basic income is an effective solution to food insecurity, as a version of it (Old Age Security and, for low-income seniors, the Guaranteed Income Supplement) is provided to Canadian seniors.

Research shows that once Canadians hit the age of 65, rates of food insecurity drop by 50 per cent. Food insecurity researchers posit that a basic income provided to all Canadians would drastically lower food insecurity rates, particularly in the most severe categories. Food Secure Canada has been calling for a feasibility study of basic income by the federal government.

There was also discussion of food- and community-based initiatives, such as school food programs and community food security initiatives in Northern Canada. In the US, the absence of sufficient income support has led to a reliance on government programs such as SNAP (food stamps), WIC (Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children), and school lunch and breakfast programs. Some American researchers spoke to the importance of these programs in supporting people living in food insecurity.

Low income is clearly the main but not only determinant of food insecurity. Many feel as though sufficient income support (at or above Statistic Canada’s Low-Income Measure), bolstered by community programs that have other benefits, such as improved health and social inclusion, is our best chance of tackling this issue. Community-based solutions offer the added bonus of fostering grassroots activism to advocate for better policy. Indeed, sociologist and author Janet Poppendieck offered, “In this particular proliferation of emergency food in the United States, the downstream consequences have been very interesting, because all those food pantries run by nuns, African-American pastors and Latino evangelists finally created some boots on the ground for the anti-hunger movement. We have people who have that kind of credibility when they talk to a Governor’s commission or a Senate committee, that academics and policy-wonks don’t have. These are salt-of-the-earth people doing this work, and they have gradually come to realize that the federal food assistance programs are essential to their work.”
There is growing work between researchers and community groups aiming to find the most effective solutions to curb growing rates of food insecurity in Canada. Food Secure Canada hopes to play a central role in this conversation and in bringing people together to push for change, especially since food security has been defined as one of the pillars of Canada’s emerging food policy. To that end, our Executive Director Diana Bronson presented on how academics and community organizations can better work in tandem, based on Food Secure Canada’s extensive experience working with researchers and longstanding collaboration with the PROOF team.

The Liberal government has stated it is embracing evidence-based policy making. This is a call for advocates and researchers to present a solid case that action must be taken to support Canadians who struggle to put food on the table. We must work together to present the most effective solutions to inform the Poverty Reduction Strategy and National Food Policy being developed by the government to ensure that we achieve a Canada with zero hunger.


Recordings of the conference plenaries and slides are now available.