Op-ed written by Meal Exchange student leader: Alex Prong
With Halloween fast approaching, Canadian non-profit Meal Exchange ramps up for its biggest event of the year: Trick or Eat. While the event itself raises funds and non-perishable food donations for the London Food Bank, event organizers do not forget the broader issues of poverty and inequality that lay behind food insecurity. On a holiday where overconsumption runs rampant, the food insecurity of 26,000 Londoners is a tough issue to tackle, but an important one. Food is a political issue. We have enough food on the planet to feed every person and then some: we produce enough for one and a half times the world’s population (about 10 billion people). But still people aren’t getting enough food to eat – not just overseas, but right in this city as well. In London, 80,000 people make an income lower than the cost of living, and 3,600 households access one of the city’s 21 food banks every month. It doesn’t matter if the food is being produced if there is no way for people to access it. In addition to inaccessibility, food quality is often staggeringly different depending on class. In both Central and Old East London “food deserts” exist where grocery stores simply don’t stock fresh vegetables and fruits. When grocers do stock the healthier foods, they are often priced so ludicrously high that families cannot afford to make the healthy choice. Often an apple will cost more than a burger, and fast food will become the only option for impoverished families. This rings true in London where 2/3 people are not eating the recommended serving of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis. Meal Exchange’s Trick or Eat is a temporary help for a bigger issue. The event takes place on October 31st every year. Students dress up and canvas the neighborhood in teams collecting cans and other non-perishables. In London, the volunteers go to the general community around Masonville Mall, but similar campaigns are carried out across Canada. Although this is a great way to tangibly help those who are food insecure, the organizers understand that there are underlying causes to food insecurity, and members spend the rest of the year volunteering to hand out meals and talk to those who are impacted by the issue. Living in this city we have a responsibility to restore dignity to those whose basic human needs are not being met. London has poverty levels that are much higher than comparable cities, and the 2nd lowest rate of employment in Ontario. As members of this community it is our duty to work towards finding a solution for the structural reasons behind this kind of inequality. We need to take an intersectional look at poverty: what is different for people who have different ethnicities, sexualities, and genders? With these questions in mind we can start to build a community based on inclusivity and equality, and in a community of that sort, food insecurity could begin to wane away.