As consumers become increasingly dissatisfied with conventional, large-scale food systems, they are seeking ways to reconnect with their food. For the wealthy, that translates into a turn toward what we call the “alternative food system.”
My extensive research into North American food insecurity examines the inequality inherent in that trend. It highlights that only people who can afford to “vote with their forks” are able to support this emerging food system — one that is understood to be more ethical, more sustainable and more transparent.
My research also discusses options for smoothing out the inequality in the alternative food movement, and lands on policy change as a major solution.
Before you throw your hands up, saying policy change is a challenge someone else should tackle, I invite you to read on, because I also uncovered major problems with our societal attitudes. These are what you and I need to explore — and tackle directly — if we have any hope of implementing the necessary policy changes.
Low-income people unfairly stereotyped
My interviews revealed that alternative food retailers lacked awareness or concern about low-income Canadians facing food insecurity. When asking about widening food access to this demographic, it wasn’t uncommon to hear responses like: “We really don’t think about that very much. We don’t help people that much.”
This is perhaps understandable, given these retailers’ focus on supporting small farmers. However, in the conversations spurred by publishing this research, I have come to realize that everyday Canadians are also oblivious to poverty-induced food insecurity that afflicts one in eight households in Canada. Worse still, this ignorance feeds into a larger societal discourse: one that views people living in poverty negatively.
Other researchers have found that when it comes to food, people of low socioeconomic status are understood to have fewer food skills, less knowledge about food and less desire for nutritious foods. These assumptions are invalid but pervasive.
I heard participants say things like: “A lot of low-income people are used to highly processed foods … and may not buy fresh or local if it were less expensive.” Or: “They haven’t made the connection … that food is going into my body, and that’s the most important thing that I can do for my own health.” These opinions are based on little, if any, evidence.
Source: University of Guelph