Women, Hunger, and Food Insecurity

This post was written by Carole Carpot-Lacassagne, Women’s Centre Basic Needs Coordinator.

May 28 is World Hunger Day. You will probably read a lot about different ways of solving this overwhelming social issue, which leaves so many of us at a loss for words and actions. In a world where we feel that resources are endless, that we own more, have more, food insecurity is a painful but necessary reminder that inequities, including one relating to a very basic need like food, still persist.

I’m not going to tackle the question of what should be done, rather I would like to provide another perspective, a more relatable one. Time and time again I’ve had friends share their surprise when I talk about the work we do at the Women’s Centre with our Food programs that support women and their families. Does much food insecurity really exist in Calgary? Are people really lacking food? Many of us think, or would like to think of some foreign country far away when we think of women and children who are hungry. But hunger exists in our city and it is very real.

At the Centre we assist women and families who urgently need food, and they sometimes share with us that they do not have any food for the day or the week, or they have not eaten in days. Hunger and food insecurity go hand in hand. But what does it mean to be food insecure? Alberta Health services describes Household food insecurity (HFI) as “inadequate or insecure access to food because of financial constraints.”

Food insecurity is a spectrum; challenges can be more or less severe, and can include experiences like being deprived of food for days, or barely making ends meet and experiencing constant anxiety about finding food. There are also vulnerability factors such as being a lone parent, especially if the lone parent is a woman.

When we talk about hunger, we actually talk about income disparities, the social net and social assistance rates, affordable and accessible childcare.  All those are systemic elements of the hunger crisis and make your neighbor, or the person who rides the C-train everyday with you, go hungry without you noticing.

We need to understand that this is a reality. It is also essential to understand the consequences of hunger. I’ve heard many times: “ok, let’s admit people are struggling for food. Well you give them food. The problem is solved.” Simple right? Not really. Now let’s think about it more. Of course this almost instinctive response is the first layer of what we do; it’s very important for us as at the Women’s Centre community to fulfill this basic need and maintain our efforts.

Here is the part most of us are often not aware of; when you’ve experienced hunger on an ongoing basis it stays with you and constitutes a lasting traumatic experience. There can be shame and self-blame in admitting that you are hungry. It impacts your dignity and self-worth when you are unable to feed yourself or your family. And there is this fear which never really goes away of lacking food at some point again. My mother experienced chronic hunger throughout her childhood and to this day- over 60 years later!- that fear of not having enough food is still with her.

At the Women’s Centre that’s exactly why we work hard to preserve every woman’s dignity with programs such as our Food day. We relentlessly challenge the old saying of “beggars can’t be choosers”. When you cannot afford food, does it make a difference that you are able to choose the food you need for your family? Yes, absolutely, it makes a world of difference.

As we reflect on the complex issues of hunger and food insecurity, I would like to encourage you to reflect on your own lives and a day where you missed a meal. How likely were you to help your fellow citizen? How patient were you? How receptive were you of your surroundings? Ultimately, helping families to be more food secure is about building stronger and more caring communities within which some day resources will be shared more equally. And that’s something we should all care about!

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