A Saharan Food Desert – John Stapleton’s Poverty Fighting Research, 5th On Poverty

You have to be rich to be poor.  The poorer you are the more things cost.

Imagine living where you cannot buy healthy affordable food?  Where retail food chains, if they haven't deserted your area, charge you more for fruit, vegetables, whole grain foods than in other areas of the city.  Where high calorie junk food is cheap by comparison.  Where corner stores can have a 30-60% markup on prices, provide a limited selection of products and processed foods dominate the shelves.
These enclaves of limited healthy nutritious food choices are so bad researchers and poverty activists call them,  food deserts.  Similar to other barren environments you adapt – you eat what's available.  You teach your children to do the same

John Stapleton has exposed this wasteland of healthy nutritious food in a recent study: The Poor Still Pay More: Challenges Low Income Families Face in Consuming a Nutritious Diet.    Incidentally the word 'still' is the only title change from a 1967 study by David Caplovitz, proving yet again how resistant poverty is to our solutions.  Or how inadequate our solutions have been. 

 Over 375,000 Ontarians use food banks every month (a growth of 19 percent from last year alone), signaling the alarming effects of the recent recession and the rising costs of food staples on the diets and health of our most vulnerable residents. A quick scan of other jurisdictions suggests the results are no different in the rest of Canada, Europe and the US.  Co-authored with Brian Cook, Katherine Chan and James Milway The Poor Still Pay More outlines three challenges faced by low income households in Ontario.

Low Income Households Cannot Afford a Healthy Diet – social assistance rates have not kept pace with the rising cost of food.   More alarming, dairy, bread and meat costs which account for 60% of our diet are rising even faster.  Canada’s milk prices are highest among its international peers as a result of our supply management system, where restrictive quotas have led to artificially inflated prices at the expense of its consumers

Low Income Households are not Consuming a Healthy Diet – 20% of Ontarians living in poverty report they cannot afford to eat fresh fruit and vegetables every day.  It costs more for one litre of milk than it does for one litre of pop.

Low Income households have greater difficulty accessing a healthy diet -  Without access to cars to drive to the big food retailers like Costco to stock up on cheaper healthier foods, they are limited to what they can carry.  They become reliant on local stores which stock fewer or none of the healthier varieties of food and fresh produce even though they are often less expensive in favour of processed, calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods.

The report recommends:

  1. A new housing benefit geared to income and rental costs to free up constrained finances to purchase food
  2. Improved incentives for retailers and community groups to increase accessibility by low income communities to lower priced and healthier food options, particularly in urban “food deserts”
  3. Lower dairy prices through the eventual elimination of the higher price influence of dairy marketing boards

John Stapleton provides an antidote to those of us who associate research with statistics or boring lectures on chi-squares.  His work is testimony to the role research can play in advocacy.   He has been applying the best of social science to the intractable problem of poverty for over four decades, first as a public servant and now through his company, Open Policy.  (I referenced his  reflections on meeting the legendary Fred MacKinnon in a previous post.)  He was an invaluable ally in our Registered Disability Savings Plan campaign and for recognizing its poverty fighting potential.  Check out his others research efforts and commentaries

Download The_poor_still_pay_more

Related Posts:

Fighting The Crime of Poverty: The Life Work of Dr. Fred MacKinnon 

Eliminating Poverty: Senator Hugh Segal and Finance Minister Flaherty 

A Canadian Town Where No One Was Poor

Canadians With Severe Disabilities – A Basic Income Plan

This is the fifth in a series on poverty. Click Poverty to access the others.


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