A major fire this week that completely destroyed one of Iqaluit ‘s two grocery stores has reignited concerns about food insecurity in the North. Our thoughts go out to the entire population of Iqaluit at this difficult time. The blaze at the Northmart store not only destroyed the food on the shelves, but also an adjoining warehouse where a large cache of dry goods was being stored. Most of these goods, including stocks for Christmas and Easter, were brought in by barge while sea lanes were open during the summer, and now concerns have been raised about possible food shortages and escalating prices.
Food costs are already an issue throughout Nunavut, where 55 per cent of the population is living with food insecurity, according to Statistics Canada, and the issue has been getting worse since monitoring began in 2005. (StatsCan defines food insecurity as occurring when one or more household members do not have access to an acceptable amount of quality healthy food, usually because of financial constraints).
The entire issue of food security also falls across racial lines. A recent report found the average cost of groceries for a family of four in Nunavut is $19,760 per year while almost half of Inuit adults earn less than $20,000 annually. This is in contrast to annual salaries for the non-indigenous population averaging over $72,000 in Iqaluit.
It’s worth thinking of the food security in your own community. No matter where you live, grocery stores only carry 3-4 days worth of perishable food. This is not such a big deal if one store shuts down in, say, Toronto, but in our current system your access to food is more fragile than you might imagine. If there is a disruption of the distribution chain (due to an internet black-out, for example, or natural disaster) food shortages could occur in a matter of days.
Supporting and enhancing local food systems in our own communities remains a critical piece in food security.