Affording food

By Jenn Watt

If you’ve been grocery shopping in the last couple of months you’ve noticed the incredible increase in the cost of some fruits and vegetables. And if you’ve been paying attention over the last year you’ve probably taken note of the increase in price of meat seafood and fish too.

Grocery bills on average in Canada went up some $325 in 2015 and experts in the industry expect another $345 in 2016.

The rising prices are largely attributed to the low Canadian dollar and poor weather in California and Mexico where foods are grown. However our shock at the checkout line is more complex.

What the recent price spike has illustrated is how many people are sitting in a precarious financial position where a little extra cost is panic-inducing. The outcry over the $8 cauliflower reflects not only indignation at a once affordable food becoming a luxury item (at least temporarily) but also worry that many feel about the economy in general and whether one’s income will be enough.

Certainly there are things we can do about the rising bills. As local health unit dietitian Rosie Kadwell points out savings can be found by choosing frozen foods over fresh ones; buying in-season veggies such as squash carrots and potatoes in winter; and switching to so-called no-name foods instead of more expensive brand names.

Her biggest concern as an advocate for healthy eating is for those who already had a hard time buying groceries before the prices started to climb. What kinds of sacrifices are those people having to make? How tempting will the low-cost frozen pizza be when lettuce and tomatoes are increasingly less affordable?

In many cases buying less healthful foods is one side effect says Aaron Walker who is a partner at McKecks and co-ordinator of Food for Kids.

In the restaurant sector when money is tight customers choose not to dine out as often and they begin to migrate to cheaper places. That often means selecting fast food more regularly.

So far the local food bank hasn’t noticed a spike in costs though their client base includes more than 100 local households.

Weathering changes in the price of food would come more easily if Haliburtonians – and Canadians in general – felt more secure in their incomes. Absorbing surges in costs is manageable when people have jobs they can rely on with enough money coming in to feel comfortable.