If you combined the population of Huntsville, Collingwood, and Orillia you would have the same number of people that face food insecurity across Simcoe/Muskoka. The Simcoe/Muskoka District Health Unit says that equals out to be one in eight households, or 70,000 people, who can’t afford to buy food and pay for rent and bills at the same time.

Public Health Nutritionist Jane Shrestha says food insecurity can lead to a significant impact on physical, mental and social health for people of all ages. On top of that, she says recent research shows the more food insecure you are in Ontario, the more you use healthcare services. She says that means the healthcare costs are over twice as high for the most severe food-insecure households in Ontario when compared to food-secure people. By not addressing the problem, Shrestha says it costs everyone in the long run.

Shrestha also notes of those food-insecure people, only one in four will use a food bank. She says the food banks do what they can to help out, but there’s only so much action they can take and once the food is gone the underlying problem is still there. She says when 70,000 people are facing food insecurity, there isn’t one community organization that is able to address that problem.

Shrestha says the solution to the food insecurity issue in Muskoka will start with policies, which affect a large number of people and play out over a long period of time. She gives the example of social assistance rates that reflect the real cost of living, a basic income, affordable housing or inexpensive childcare, which will all leave vulnerable people with more money in their pockets.

Every year, the Simcoe/Muskoka District Health Unit conducts a nutritious food basket survey, which looks at the cost of a basket of basic food in grocery stores and local rent figures. Last May, the survey found for a family of four with a minimum wage income, it would take over 60 per cent of their income to cover the cost of food and housing. And, Shrestha says that doesn’t include anything else like personal care products, cell phone bills, over-the-counter medication, and clothes.

The health unit has a campaign called No Money for Food is Cent$less, which is based on solutions that involve increasing income so people can afford to cover the cost of basic necessities. The goal of the campaign is to raise awareness about the concern of household food insecurity and its impact on health. There is a page on the website for residents to send a letter to Premier Kathleen Wynne and other politicians asking for action, in order to make this a 2018 election campaign issue. The letter is pre-written and all you have to supply is your name and email address. There is also a downloadable postcard that can be sent in the mail. The campaign is also being made province-wide through the Ontario Dietitians in Public Health website.

Overall, Shrestha says food insecurity is a big problem with a lot of serious health implications.