Low-income families hit hardest by soaring produce prices: expert
CTV Vancouver Island
Published Tuesday, January 19, 2016 5:11PM PST
Last Updated Tuesday, January 19, 2016 6:33PM PST
Greater Victoria’s most vulnerable population is feeling the sting of pricey produce.
A lagging Loonie and an ongoing drought in California has shot up the price of imported fruits and vegetables, causing some low-income families to abandon nutrition in favour of eating cheap.
“I can definitely say it already has,” says Trevor Tuckwell of Victoria’s Single Parent Resource Centre. “I think people are struggling to budget, and what do they have to sacrifice to be able to go to the store and just buy a bag of fruit?”
The Victoria Foundation estimates some 52,000 people on the South Island are food insecure, meaning they already have limited access to proper nutrition.
Local food banks predict that number will climb as produce continues to jump in price – and say that will have a negative impact on many of their clients.
“They’re not accessing the healthy foods they could afford. Now it’s unaffordable,” said Mustard Seed Society spokesman Allan Lingwood. “We’re going to start to see negative health outcomes come out of that, because people will borderline starve themselves not wanting to deal with the stigma of visiting a food bank.”
Soaring costs also mean that the food bank’s purchasing power is decreasing as wholesale costs rise, according to Lingwood.
“We will be burning through more cash if we have to continue to purchase perishable goods,” he said.
Staff say they can still afford produce for the time being.
A University of Victoria food security expert says the way the agriculture system in B.C. is designed has lower-income people paying the biggest price, particularly with a Canadian dollar that has recently dipped below $0.70 USD.
“The impact is going to be highest for those foods that we import the most, and what are those foods in B.C.? They’re fruits and vegetables,” said Aleck Ostry. “These are the foods that poor people eat the least of and need the most in order to get improved dietary health, so the impacts health-wise are quite severe.”
He noted B.C. has one of the highest child poverty rates in Canada, and that single women with kids on welfare will likely be hit the hardest by the rising costs.
Aboriginal families living on reserves in places where food prices are already high will also be majorly impacted, Ostry said.