Anyone who has gone to buy groceries lately has noticed the rising price of food. For workers and people on fixed incomes the increased cost of groceries hits hard. Spring Magazine spoke with Alyssa Gerhardt, a Sociologist and PhD candidate at Dalhousie University about the rising cost of food. Gerhardt co-authored the 2021 Canada Food Price Report. Gerhardt highlights how capitalism, the climate crisis, and the rising cost of living are all interconnected.
Could you tell us about the findings of the Canada Food Price Report that you co-authored?
AG: The report predicts increases in food prices annually, and this year we predicted the highest annual expenditure increase in the history of the report. What that looks like in dollar amounts for a family of four is an increase of $966 to their grocery bill this year. And that is likely a conservative estimate. This is just meeting very basic needs for food, not including specialized diets and it does not include eating out. It is the bare minimum.
That is a substantial increase. Could you tell us why the cost of food is rising so much?
AG: I think there are a lot of different factors – ones that are top of mind and most discussed were of course COVID, which has caused a lot of disruptions to the food supply chain as well as capacity. When there are outbreaks of COVID there are less people available to work. Another important factor is climate change, it affects not only how food is grown but also how the food supply chain is operating. So, for example, how do we get things from point A to point B when there are climate disasters like wild fires or floods.
Did the report offer any solutions or tips for people facing these rising costs?
AG: It is more about predicting what families can expect and hoping it will generate conversation and inform policy. A lot of the time we as a society look for solutions at the individual/consumer level – but there are a lot of families who have already cut their food costs as much as they can. We all need to eat, we shouldn’t have to pay for the crises of capitalism. Food should be a basic human right. Instead of telling everyone to check your flyers and cut back we need to look at the roots of the problem. People tend to ask what we as consumers can do but I think it is a way bigger problem than that, it is a systemic problem.
Yes, this is clearly a systemic and an intersectional issue. So, what do rising food prices mean for the health of people living in Canada?
AG: This has a huge impact on our health. We already know that if you are for example, a low-income person or someone living in poverty, you already have a lot of stress trying to survive every day. Dealing with the rising costs of basic needs, like food, just increases that stress. Also, people are often sacrificing nutrition and fresh foods because they are unaffordable. It’s cheaper to buy pop than milk for example. I think there are long term costs on our health care system too – the more food goes up in price the more difficult it is to source nutritious, healthy food for people, and this will put a strain on our health care system down the road.
How does food security relate to issues of access to affordable housing, income supports and systemic inequalities in Canada?
AG: Well we cannot push the responsibility of rising food costs on consumers, it doesn’t address the problem. We also need to talk about food prices in tandem with talking about housing problems. Food and housing are budgets are fixed expenses. Everyone deserves a house, everyone deserves healthy and affordable food options. These are all tied to systemic inequalities in Canada, you can’t look at one without looking at the others.
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