As other provinces race to implement reactionary pandemic measures, Nova Scotia struggles to combat a plight that has been affecting the province for decades. As Canada’s most food insecure province, 15.3% of Nova Scotians prior to the pandemic, lacked accessibility to nutritious and sustainably sourced food. Many factors contribute to food insecurity, the most notably, poverty, distance from grocers and agricultural self-reliance. Studies have shown that food insecurity can affect an individual’s mental and physical health and increase the risk of various chronic conditions. Among the 15.3% of Nova Scotians, a disproportionate number of racialized individuals are more likely to experience the effects of food insecurity (‘racialized groups’ does not include members of the First Nations communities).
Although income is not the most inclusive indicator of assessing food insecurity, it does encompass a vast majority of those who are suffering. Figures from Statistics Canada show that 23.9% of racialized Individuals in Nova Scotia fall below the Low-Income Cut-off – After Tax (LICO-AT) line while only accounting for 6.4% of the total population of the province. Since Statistics Canada census data does not provide a Market Basket Measure (MBM) measure, a comparison using LICO-AT was required.
23.9% appears to be a dauntingly high percentage, but LICO-AT is the most conservative measure of low-income thresholds. The MBM (which offers more realistic parameters to reflect annual expenses) for Nova Scotia (14%) is above the Canada MBM average (11%) and twice the size of the Provincial LICO-AT (7%). An argument could be made that every 1 in 4 racialized Nova Scotians are below the MBM low-income threshold. When considering the relationship between Halifax; where 77.2% of racialized individuals reside, and the city’s main sector of employment; the notoriously precarious and low-earning Tertiary (services) Sector which equates to 85% of all employment, the illusion of such inequality becomes more palpable.
A study which focused on the number of fast-food restaurants in relation to measures of social and material deprivation in Nova Scotia found a significant correlation between psychosocial deprivation in urban areas and a high density of fast-food chains. The effects of early psychosocial deprivation can cause life-long socialite and behavioral issues in racialized youth while highly accessible and highly addictive fast-food directly attributes to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease and a multitude of other debilitating diseases.
The ease of access to processed food goods is only the tip of a ship sinking iceberg. Nova Scotia has a dwindling agricultural sector which potentially compromises the future infrastructural integrity needed to achieve a food secure province. Aside from an industry average age of 56, the agricultural sector has reported farm cash receipts of a negative balance for 3 consecutive years (2017-2019), totaling $35 million loss. Increases in operational expenses and a poor fruit harvest in 2019 contribute to the underperformance, but a correlation must be drawn between a receding agricultural sector and the community they provide for. Nova Scotian farms only earn 0.13 cents of every food dollar spent within the province.
The remaining 0.87 cents is a blinding signal flare that Nova Scotia is too heavily reliant on food imports to meet demand. Due to a decline in local agricultural, food logistics into sparse rural areas becomes more challenging and increases the consumer price because significant infrastructure is failing to meet demand and must be hauled from shipping containers into the respective areas. It is estimated that every plate served has travelled an average 8000km, possibly lowering grocery bills but paying the difference through environmental pollution and rising carbon taxes. While grocers opt for more imported food goods, the price Nova Scotians pay is not the price displayed. A report about Nova Scotia agriculture in 2010 outlined the importance of agricultural self-reliance and providing for the province without instantaneously falling into crisis mode if import food supply chains were cut-off, identifying a steep positive trend in food import spending.
The realities of food insecurity, especially amongst racialized groups, coupled with an unsustainable agricultural sector form the red warning flag as Nova Scotia heads into the 2020 pandemic. Food insecurity is difficult to measure preemptively, but understanding the main contributors aids in conceptualizing the dangers that lay ahead.
Atlantic Canada has been blessed with low infection rates due to strict preventative measures to ensure the safety of the ‘Atlantic Bubble’. These measures were stringent and necessary but applied a tremendous stress on food insecure households, particularly for racialized groups, as the economy began to halt.
Pandemic panic buying placed impossible demands on all tiers, limiting the supply of a vast majority of food goods. As the demand for food and necessities spiked, so did the operational expenses all along respective supply chains creating a ‘bull whip’ effect. Like the Atlantic flood and eb currents, the stress travelled up to the suppliers then returned down the chain to the consumer, bringing an increase in sale price. The Food Price Report 2021 estimates an annual increase of $695 for a family of 4 (totaling $13,907) excluding food service.
Mass unemployment greatly affected the tertiary sector, minimum/low wage employees and precarious positions. Up until November 2020, roughly one-quarter of the total temporary layoffs were from accommodation and food services and of the 10% that eventually returned work received less than half of their usual hours. Income slowly diminishing and expenses steadily rising, more families began to slip into poverty a study revealed that almost 25% of children in Nova Scotia are currently living in impoverished conditions. Due to contributing systemic issues, racialized groups are more susceptibility to low income and food insecurity, suggesting that the child poverty rate could pose serious repercussions for racialized youth.
The behaviours that Nova Scotians have exhibited during 2020 could be interpreted as a physical response to the stress that potential food insecurity can inflict. Home gardening in Canada rose by 20% with over half of respondents indicating that their decisions were attributed to the pandemic. Atlantic Canada showed the largest rise in home gardening and members of The Potlotek First Nation in Cape Breton began constructing geothermal greenhouses to ensure their food security (sovereignty). These actions suggest a rise in concern for food security and perhaps a fundamental change in how Nova Scotia approaches food policy. Numerous studies have been announced in 2021 to better understand the nuances of food security amongst Nova Scotians and amongst various demographics. Ingrid Waldron, associate professor at Dalhousie University, aims to understand the effects of the pandemic within the Nova Scotian Black community and using their findings to better prepare members for future disasters. Another study led by Dr. Catherine L. Mah, CRC in Promoting Healthy Populations, is researching how the pandemic has affected the Atlantic Canada’s food choices.
Societal reevaluation is key. Equivalent to receiving a physician’s forewarning of impending doom, retrospection has Nova Scotians set for a new course. The opportunity to improve the lives of Nova Scotians, starts in Nova Scotia.
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Mathew Cousineau is a third-year Commerce student majoring in Supply Chain and Logistics Management with a minor in Economics. Mat is also a former Red Seal Chef who has gained experience in small business creation and leadership. Outside of the kitchen, he has held positions in operational analysis (CRE and Software industries), social entrepreneurship , and academic research. His interests include ethical and sustainable agricultural practices, health and fitness, food security, and studying French.