The City is committed to addressing the critical issue of food insecurity through various strategies and actions, including:

  • Prioritizing food access as a key pillar of the City’s Poverty Reduction Strategy (PRS).
  • City Council adopting a motion to update Toronto’s Food Charter and report back as part of the PRS 2023-2026 Action Plan.
  • City Council adopting the community-led Black Food Sovereignty Plan addressing chronic food insecurity, anti-Black racism and structural inequity in Toronto’s local food system to create immediate and long-term change to improve the health, wellbeing and capacity of Black Torontonians.
  • City Council unanimously adopting the City’s first Reconciliation Action Plan, which includes a strategic action to improve access to traditional Indigenous foods and medicines.

The Poverty Reduction Strategy Office is planning for the PRS 2023-2026 Action Plan. A series of community engagement activities will take place in early 2023. Information about how you can participate will be available soon.

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:

  • Eat foods of lower nutritional quality
  • Go without eating so their children can eat
  • Skip meals
  • Go a whole day or several days without eating
  • Eat the same few foods for all their meals
  • Eat less food than they need
  • Worry about running out of food

Having a job is not enough. More than half (51.9%) of food insecure households in Ontario rely on income from wages, salaries or self-employment (Tarasuk V, Li T, Fafard St-Germain AA., 2022). Poverty is the root cause of food insecurity.

Almost one in five (18.6%) Torontonians experienced food insecurity in 2021 (Statistics Canada, Income Statistics Division, Canadian Income Survey). The percentage of households and individuals experiencing any type of food insecurity has remained stable since 2019.

Risk of food insecurity is higher for individuals and families that:

  • Have a low income.
  • Receive social assistance, such as Ontario Works (OW) or Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP), as their main source of income.
  • Are racialized, especially those who identify as Black or Indigenous.
  • Rent, as opposed to own, their homes.
  • Are led by lone-parents, especially female lone-parents.

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. Staff visit at least 12 stores across the city in May or June of each year 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.

Nutritious Food Basket 2022

In 2022, the monthly cost of the NFB for a reference family of four* is $1,141.

*Reference family of four consists of two adults and two children ages 8 and 14.

Notes:

  1. NFB results from 2022 cannot be compared to previous years due to changes in the survey tool and methodology.
  2. NFB data was collected in June 2022, therefore results will not reflect inflationary or other increases in food costs since that time.

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?

  • Food
  • Rent
  • Prescription Medication
  • Electricity
  • Heat
  • Quality Childcare
  • Transportation
  • Phone/Internet

A series of nine income scenarios have been 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,

  • A family of four receiving Ontario Works (OW) would need an extra $3,200 in income sources to meet basic needs.
  • A couple receiving assistance from the Ontario Disability Support Program (ODSP) would need an extra $1,300 in income sources to meet basic needs.
  • A family of four earning a minimum wage paycheque would need an extra $2,400 in income sources to meet basic needs.
  • A single adult earning minimum wage would have just $66 left to pay for all other basic needs.

Visit the Open Data portal for the income scenario dataset.

Food Responses

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.

Income Solutions

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:

  • Affordable housing, transportation and childcare.
  • Secure quality jobs, with livable wages and benefits.
  • Social assistance programs that provide adequate benefits to cover real costs of living.

Actions You Can Take

  • Learn more about the root causes and impacts of poverty and food insecurity.
  • Understand that food banks and other charitable food programs are not a long-term solution to hunger.
  • Support local businesses that pay staff a livable wage.
  • Make your voice heard – speak to your municipal, provincial and federal government officials about what they are doing to reduce poverty.
  • Vote for solutions that will ensure dignified access to food for all people in your community.

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: