Volunteers organize food for the Haliburton County Good Food Box in front of the Royal Canadian Legion Haliburton branch. The program is an affordable way to get produce at a time like now when they are pricey. File photo

Coping with rising food costs in the Highlands

By Jenn Watt

By now most of us have seen the online spoof: a couple goes into a bank looking for a loan to buy a cauliflower. The cartoon is obviously a joke but underlying the humour is a real concern.

The low Canadian dollar coupled with weather-related crop failures around the world has made some produce unaffordable.

Those costs have direct and indirect impacts on the community of Haliburton.

Aaron Walker a partner at McKecks Tap and Grill as well as co-ordinator for Food for Kids says changes have had to be made at the restaurant to accommodate for “ridiculous” prices of some produce.

“We do not purchase the same spectrum of produce that we normally would in order to maintain an operational model at McKecks” he says. When the price of produce and meat becomes too expensive many restaurants feel pressure to either pass that cost on to the customer or to absorb it and cut back on staff hours.

“If you want to keep those people in jobs you have to keep your doors open by not really raising your cost of operation” he says.

“In Ontario the average full-serve restaurant has a profit margin of three per cent. That’s the average so there’s not a lot of wiggle room. It’s not like they can absorb a huge fluctuation of price.”

Walker says the trend across the province is for people to dine out less and he expects that when buying a meal using fresh produce is too expensive many opt to go out for fast food instead.

Putting on his other hat Walker says Food for Kids is feeling a bit of pressure in buying fresh fruit for the breakfast program which operates out of the county’s schools in the mornings.

“Each school has a site co-ordinator and speaking with them they’ve all intimated to me an exponentially greater cost for fresh fruit in particular” Walker says.

“Although they continue to purchase them and we continue to give them to the kids at the schools there’s a huge increase in expense. I don’t think we’re in jeopardy of being able to afford it this year but it’s definitely going to take a bite out of the funds we do have.”

For families doing their regular shopping local health unit dietitian Rosie Kadwell has some tips for keeping costs in check including eating seasonal produce choosing frozen food and switching to no-name brands.

Choosing frozen food over fresh can often offer substantial savings without sacrificing nutritional value the dietitian says.

“I think there are misconceptions that frozen vegetables are not as nutritious” Kadwell says. On the contrary frozen vegetables are picked at their peak and flash frozen to keep their nutritional value.

Consumers will also find that prices of seasonal produce are more reasonable and it may be a matter of selecting potatoes and squash for example instead of leafy greens during the winter.

“It doesn’t have to be drab boiled potatoes and carrots” says Kadwell pointing out that EatRightOntario.ca has plenty of recipes that can be made on a budget that are healthful and tasty.

Additionally the Good Food Box offered in Haliburton County for $15 is a cheaper way to get fresh veggies. It is administered by the Lions Club and available to everyone. Give Mary Lawr a call if you’re interested: 705-448-1128

The 4Cs food bank uses the Good Food Box to supplement their service to those in need. Treasurer Judy MacDuff said last month they gave out 125 of them. The food bank now serves 111 households – a “household” can be a single person or family.

MacDuff says the grocery stores have been generous with the 4Cs and they haven’t yet felt a crunch from rising food prices. However they could always use more financial donations.

“After Christmas … that’s when the food banks are forgotten. There’s nothing going on at that time of year” she says.

“People are hungry all year long not just at Christmas.”