What is a Food Desert?
A food desert is an area or region that has an absence of grocery stores or markets selling affordable, nutritious food within a reasonable distance of travel. Food deserts typically exist in disadvantaged urban areas or remote regions of Canada. When larger grocery stores are not easily accessible, people typically turn to shopping at small convenience stores, where prices are upwards of 1.6 times higher than they would be elsewhere. As a result, individuals and families may not be able to purchase as much food as they need. Convenience stores do not often carry a wide variety of fresh produce which limits customers nutritious food options.
Neighbourhoods lacking adequate grocery stores often have a higher proportion of fast-food chains, which provide quick and affordable meals. However, these restaurants often do not provide healthy options which can lead to unhealthy eating patterns.
Lower-income or fixed income families are disproportionally impacted by food deserts in Canada, particularly those living in northern communities.
Above is a picture of the cost of 4L of milk in a grocery store in Nunavut. Even with an over 50% subsidy, the milk is over $10. The same amount of milk in Toronto costs around $5. Due to Nunavut's remote location, food must be transported far distances to reach grocery stores and there are very few shopping options. As a result, grocery stores are able to charge higher prices, leaving many families food insecure.
Nearly 70% of Inuit households in Nunavut are food insecure, which is eight times higher than the Canadian average and is one of the highest rates of any Indigenous population in a developed country.
Many Canadians may be unaware of the consequences of food deserts and food insecurity, even in their own cities and neighbourhoods. Have you ever thought about how you or your family fills your fridge? Next time you go for a walk in your neighbourhood, take notice of the grocery stores, their location, accessibility and even pricing. You may be surprised what you notice!