Written by: Erika Dupuis, Toronto Youth Cabinet Urban Health Lead on behalf of the Urban Health Working Group, including members Sophia DiNocolo & Mariana Villada Rivera
Food insecurity is not a new issue to Toronto. Food insecurity is a continually growing problem for numerous communities across wards; it is time we start paying closer attention to its effects not only for households, but for youth as well. By definition, to be food insecure is to experience hardship in accessing food due to financial constraints (proof.utoronto.ca). 12.6% of households in Toronto experience food insecurity and children and youth make up 17% of the food insecure population in Ontario (Lewsen, 2018). In Toronto, a large contrast exists between affordability and the basic necessities of life. More must be done to ensure that young people are not left behind.
Communities should be able to secure affordable, nutritious, and culturally safe foods without concern. Yet still, young people are increasingly frustrated about the lack of physical and economic accessibility in Toronto, specifically within transit, housing, and childcare, all of which contributes to the barriers of food security in respective communities. Food security is not only a necessity, but a fundamental right for all Torontonians.
If the members of the Urban Health working group could be mayor the first issue we would address is food security programming as well as improving access to traditional, nutrient-rich, and culturally appropriate foods in youth spaces. Food security is one of the many unmet needs for Toronto youth. Current research and figures are able to support these statements as well. Current data shows that Toronto’s neighborhoods are ethno-culturally segregated through low, middle, and high-income households (Contenta, 2018). This has tremendous impacts on the health of young people which is also seen through recent reports that show Toronto’s child poverty rate hovering between 33% and 47% (Social Planning Toronto, 2018).
Incoming councillors and school board trustees must mobilize and advocate for a greater expansion of programs and resources that address the ever-growing issues in food insecurity for Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer youth.
It is imperative to address issues concerning youth food insecurity within Toronto in the upcoming municipal election. There is a greater need for the creation of youth-centered spaces that not only utilize the expertise and knowledge of young people, but also give space for youth to critique and assess the programs intended for them.
Existing resources, such as school-based breakfast programs, provide much needed relief to support youth nutrition, yet there there are still a number of schools across the TDSB and TCDSB who do not offer said programs (Toronto District School Board; Toronto Catholic District School Board). Previous gaps that have been identified by youth regarding these programs include issues in timing, delivery, availability of foods, not being exempt from said food in classrooms, as well as a lack of culturally appropriate foods (Muthuswamy, 2011).
If the Urban Health working group were mayor, we would like to see social service organizations which work with and support youth receive adequate funds and resources to provide snacks, meals, and beverages. A greater expansion of available and necessary resources may also enhance youth engagement; greater youth engagement in turn will provide young people with plentiful quality, appropriate foods in hopes of improving long-term health and nutrition.
We recognize that food insecurity derives from systemic barriers that inequitably impact low-income neighborhoods as well as Indigenous, racialized, and newcomer communities. The experience of food insecurity is a structural issue that requires structural change and collective effort. If we are to begin work on satisfying basic food needs for all we must address the root causes that create insecurity to begin with.
The “If I Were Mayor” blog series profiles the ideas of youth and rising leaders from across the GTHA as a way to add their voices to the municipal conversation. Posts have been curated by CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network, For Youth Initiative, Laidlaw Foundation, Toronto Youth Cabinet, Citizen Empowerment Project, Young Women’s Leadership Network, and the Centre for Community and Immigration Services. The views contained in this post are the author’s and are not reflective of CivicAction or the CivicAction Leadership Foundation.