Food costs eating up limited incomes

Thursday, December 5, 2013 4:53:36 EST PM

OWEN SOUND – The numbers are in and they show it costs $775.37 a month to feed a family of four in Grey-Bruce – up 3.7% from last year – according to figures released by the Grey Bruce Health Unit Thursday.

The annual Ontario Nutritious Food Basket survey measures regional costs of basic healthy food and calculates the minimum cost for individuals and families to eat properly.

Grey Bruce Public Health dietitian Laura Needham said local health units went shopping for basic food items in Grey and Bruce counties. They bought the least expensive items available.

“Unfortunately, income has not increased at the same rate, so individuals and families are forced to use more of their income just to meet basic needs,” according to a news release from public health and the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force, which announced the results.

People on social assistance can be spending 38% of their monthly income on food. “This is not possible after paying for rent, utilities and other necessary expenses,” poverty task force chair Jill Umbach said in the release. The average Ontario family would spend 11% on food, she said.

Ways to help impoverished people who can’t afford sufficient nutritious food will be discussed by the Bruce Grey Poverty Task Force Friday, Dec. 13. Everyone interested in the issue is invited to attend the discussion at St. Andrew’s Church in Owen Sound, 865 2nd Ave. W., between 10 a.m. and noon.

Needham said she thinks food costs presented in the study could be conservative because they assume people know how to be smart shoppers, can recognize healthy foods and know how to cook them. Otherwise, costs would climb if shoppers bought prepared meals.

The $775.37 monthly food cost assumes a family of four consists of a man and woman between ages 31 and 50, a boy 14 to 18 years and a girl four to eight years of age.

Task force, which is holding an open house next Friday to draw on ideas from the public, will deal with the broader question of food security, which includes food costs, income, housing, education, transportation and food skills like those Needham referred to.

Task force membership includes county, church, social service agencies, police and grassroots groups helping people who are poor. Needham co-chairs the food security committee on the task force. Other committees are looking at housing and transportation separately.

“Ideally, we’d like to do everything we can to stop people from being at higher risk due to poverty.”

Needham’s committee is going to produce a “food charter” to outline an action plan. It will get people with a stake in food security to commit to doing certain things to alleviate the problem. The Friday discussion will consider what could be done.

Needham acknowledged part of the solution will require more involvement from upper levels of government. Other possible parts to the solution could include “food hubs,” which are centres for food security activities, she said.