The City is committed to addressing the critical issue of food insecurity through various strategies and actions, including:
The Poverty Reduction Strategy Office is planning for the PRS 2023-2026 Action Plan.
Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Food insecurity refers to the inadequate or insecure access to food due to lack of money.
Food insecurity is a serious issue – it is a strong social determinant of health and is closely linked to many negative health outcomes, including chronic physical and mental health problems.
People experiencing food insecurity may:
Having a job is not enough. More than half of food insecure households in Ontario rely on income from wages, salaries or self-employment (Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA., 2022).
Food insecurity is much more than just a food problem. Rather, research shows that food insecurity is a marker of much more extensive material deprivation (PROOF, 2023). Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity.
Almost one in four (24.1%) Torontonians lived in a food insecure household in 2022 . This is a significant increase from 18.6% in 2021 (Public Health Ontario, 2023).
Risk of food insecurity is higher for individuals and families that:
High rates of food insecurity are exacerbated by the historic and ongoing structural and systemic anti-Black racism and colonialism faced by Black and Indigenous Torontonians, respectively.
The City monitors food affordability using the Nutritious Food Basket (NFB), a tool adapted from Health Canada’s National Nutritious Food Basket.
The NFB tool includes 60+ items that represent a variety of healthy foods based on current national nutrition recommendations and average food purchasing patterns. In May 2023, staff visited 14 stores across the city to assess the cost of these foods. The City has done this annually since 1999, except for 2020 and 2021 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NFB should not be used as a budgeting tool. Instead, it is best used to examine the cost of living in relation to income. See the cost of living in Toronto for low-income households, below.
In 2023, the monthly cost of the NFB for a reference family of four* is $1,177.
*Reference family of four consists of two adults and two children ages 8 and 14.
The cost of living continues to go up, but incomes are not keeping pace. This is most challenging for low-income households who struggle to pay for the basic costs of living. When money is tight, people may be forced to use their food budget to pay for other expenses.
Which would you choose?
In 2022, a series of nine income scenarios were developed to estimate the affordability of shelter, nutritious food, childcare and transportation relative to income. They show that by month’s end there is little, if any, money left over to pay for other basic needs. It is estimated that each month,
Visit the Open Data portal for the 2022 income scenario dataset.
Charitable programs like food banks are relied upon as the main ‘solution’ to address hunger in Canada. However, they cannot and will not reduce food insecurity on their own.
Food banks were originally intended to provide short-term relief during the recession in the 1980’s. Since then, charitable food assistance became the main response to hunger while demand steadily increased year over year. In 2020, demand skyrocketed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and has only continued to increase since.
Access to food is a basic human right. All individuals and families deserve to have dignified access to affordable, sufficient, safe, nutritious and culturally-appropriate food.
Food insecurity is rooted in poverty. Long-term solutions, including initiatives that target income insufficiency, are required to achieve reductions in household food insecurity.
For example, we need:
Learn more about food insecurity with the following resources and links:
Food programs such as food banks, drop-in meal programs and community gardens may provide short-term relief for people experiencing food insecurity. Some of these programs may also offer other helpful supports and services. For help finding a program: