Recently, many of you have likely seen the stories in the news about Loblaw admitting to price fixing the cost of bread over the past 14 years. I have seen loads of articles and social media posts from well meaning folks suggesting you donate the $25 gift cards that are being given out by Loblaw to food banks, in response to this revelation. It makes me wonder, what does this donation really do to alleviate hunger and poverty in our communities in the long run? The answer is, at least in my humble opinion is, unfortunately not much.
When it comes to fixing the price of bread, these corporations intensified poverty in our communities. Price fixing disproportionately affects people living in poverty: “It’s a scheme that clearly penalized lower-income people more than others, given that supermarket breads forms a relatively bigger part of their budget. Fattening your bottom line on the backs of poor people isn’t a good look for some of Canada’s biggest corporations” Toronto Star. Their $25 gift card is a PR stunt designed to make you feel good. So, yes, using it to help support organizations that work to alleviate hunger is honourable, but does it combat poverty, the root source of hunger?
Poverty and food insecurity is a problem of income not food supply. Pumping more food bought with $25 gift cards, while feeding more hungry mouths in the short-term, won’t fix the problem. In fact, it may direct energy and resources away from identifying and tackling the root of what causes poverty and hunger. I would politely suggest that there is more we can do. What we need as a society is to acknowledge that being poor is not simply a lack of food, it is not simply a lack of budgeting skills or hard-work. It is without a doubt a lack of income, a lack of the money needed to pay rent, bills and other monthly expenses, and still have enough to purchase food.
Recently, I saw a social media post from a well-meaning environmentalist talking about how their fuel-efficient car helped them green their holiday drive home. It didn’t. Driving anywhere, even in a fuel-efficient car, is not good for the environment, no matter how you spin it. It is better than driving a gas guzzling SUV? Does it help reduce the amount of emissions going into our environment? Of course! What would really help would be making alternative choices. (Car-pooling, bus/ train/ GO, perhaps not even travelling at all) Who does this choice really help? The environmentalist, it makes them feel good. Does that mean you shouldn’t drive, fly or visit your family for the holidays? Of course not, but don’t pretend it is helping cure the systematic challenges our environment is facing today. It’s green-washing.
Giving your gift card to a food bank isn’t quite the same thing, but I do see parallels in the sentiment. Of course, it helps someone who is hungry eat, that day or maybe even the next, and I don’t think anyone would ever tell you that is not valuable, and wonderful. However, if we don’t do anything do change the systematic realities of hunger and poverty for the rest of the year, we haven’t changed much. In part this donation, like volunteering once a year in a homeless shelter, mostly serves to make the donator feel good, is ‘hunger-washing’ (yes, I made that up).
Over the past few decades, we have seen line-ups at food banks grow, attendance at free meals swell. The problem is getting worse. Well, they have of course fed many hungry mouths; more have, and will continue to appear. There are many great articles that argue food banks won’t solve hunger, even the title of this article from the Globe & Mail helps summarize the issue: “Food Banks helps the donor, but don’t help the poor” Peterborough has one of the highest unemployment rates, and highest food insecurity rates in the country (16.5% according to Peterborough Public Health). People are hungry; people are struggling to feed themselves and their families. Poverty is endemic, it’s complex, and it’s overwhelming.
I can almost hear you saying. Okay fine, I am trying to help and you are making me feel guilty about it, how does that help? I suppose it doesn’t, but I would like to provide some concrete suggestions that might (totally open to hearing yours too):
- Tell Loblaw the impact of their actions:
- Write Galen Weston and the other Loblaw executives to tell them to change their ways.
- Write or call your local MP’s and our Prime Minister to hold corporations like Loblaw accountable for bread fixing
- Ask them to donate to organizations that have a deeper long-term impact on food security and poverty reduction than food banks.
2. Learn more about the realty of poverty in our communities
- Peterborough Public Health publishes an excellent report every year with great stats. Read the 2016 Report Limited Incomes: A Recipe for Food Insecurity
- Volunteer at community meals to learn more about the realities of people living in poverty don’t just drop off a gift card.
- Perhaps give your gift card directly to someone in need, that way they choose whether they want to buy meats, cheese, tampons, diapers, candy for their kids, or whatever they want, just like you or your family would. If you don’t know anyone in need, perhaps it is time for you to learn more about the realities that many of your neighbours and community members face.
3. Learn more about Basic Income
- and if, like me, you think it could go along way in alleviating hunger and poverty advocate for its implementation by reading and implementing some of these great ideas
- Working with our local Peterborough Basic Income Network, or finding (or starting!) a chapter in your community.
4. Learn more about, and donate to, volunteer for or support community organizations like Nourish:
- “Nourish is all about food. Through innovative programs dedicated to eating, cooking, growing and advocating for good food, our work cultivates health, builds community and promotes fairness:
- Full disclosure, I work for Nourish, and I know there are many other organizations out there that do great work, please feel free to contribute to them as well!