Comment: Food banks a Band-Aid on a gaping wound

Here we go again. Respected institutions such as the CBC and the Times Colonist are urging us to support our local food banks, and thus we loyal listeners and readers risk sliding into the belief that food banks are a good thing.

Yes, it is a good thing when we are able to help our fellow human beings, but it is not a good thing when we continue to put Band-Aids on what is a gaping wound of inequality.

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Today’s soup kitchens and food banks were created in the early 1980s to address food insecurity caused by the recession at the time. The original purpose of these services was as a temporary stopgap, but 30 years later, shouldn’t we be questioning the length of the “emergency”?

In 1996, the United Nations declared that people are food-secure when they “have physical, social and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.”

Food insecurity is bad for health and it compromises nutritional intake so that people are often eating the wrong kinds of foods. According to the 2014 HungerCount B.C. report, there has been a 25 per cent increase in use of food banks across Canada since 2008.

Further, as the majority of food banks have limited resources, they are able to distribute to each household only one hamper a month containing five or fewer days’ worth of food. This clearly falls short of adequately providing the nutritional and desired food needs of food-bank users and in the end leaves many Canadians food insecure.

In 1976, Canada ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, including the right to food, water and housing. Will “sufficient, safe and nutritious food” provided by well-intentioned charity efforts, such as the CBC’s Food Bank Day on Friday, even begin to meet the needs of those living in poverty?

If generous donors match last year’s targets, Food Bank Day will raise about $6 for each food bank user in B.C.

Are we kidding ourselves? That’s a lot of hoopla for $6.

We need to believe that individual donors, and charities are doing the best they can. They cannot, however, provide to those living in poverty the level of food security that the rest of us enjoy; only government can provide an adequate service.

Perhaps governments should have raffles and bake sales toward the purchase of new jails and military hardware, but spend our tax dollars on social programs that will reduce poverty and help build a better future for all of us.

Hunger Count 2014 offers five recommendations:

• Invest in affordable housing at the federal level.

• Address the extremely high levels of food insecurity in Canada’s North.

• Replace the stigmatizing and ineffective social-assistance bureaucracy at the provincial level with a basic income administered through the tax system.

• Provide more effective support to low-income families with children by replacing the current alphabet soup of federal child benefits (CCTB, UCCB, etc.) with a strengthened child well-being benefit.

• Help Canadians with low levels of literacy to upgrade their skills for the jobs of today.

Yes, we need to keep mopping the floor, but isn’t it time someone looked into fixing the hole in the roof?

The Times Colonist and the CBC are doing a great job, but we shouldn’t have to rely on them indefinitely. It is time to solve the problems that create inequality and need.

Peggy Wilmot is a representative of Faith in Action, a multifaith group working together for social justice.

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