Hunger is an epidemic

windsorstar.com – life/Hunger+epidemic
March 25, 2011.   By Stephen Hume, Special To The Windsor Star

We need an intelligent national discussion on hunger in Canada.

Let’s get down to it.

Look, the number of Canadians forced to visit a food bank last March set a record, according to Food Banks Canada.

This upward trend started in 1989.

The number of Canadians who must turn to food banks to feed themselves and their families has more than doubled over two of the most prosperous decades in the country’s history.

Canada’s GDP was close to $1.4 trillion in 2010, more than twice what it was in 1989. Total that cumulative annual value and it amounts to more than $11 trillion.

Our collective wealth grew by more than 100 per cent at a time in which the number of people who couldn’t get enough to eat was doubling.

This troubling trend should register as a warning flag that there is serious structural imbalance in Canadian society’s economic ability to distribute incomes.

Instead, we get constant pleas of poverty from on high. And we get the same bleating from business, where CEOs award themselves fat increases every year while low incomes stagnate.

In fact, 30 per cent of companies that fell below the median for total shareholder return still gave management raises, according to one independent report tracking executive compensation.

Let’s be clear. Last year, in March alone, 867,948 Canadians visited food banks. If these folks were classified as a province -the province of hunger -it would rank seventh in population just behind Nova Scotia and Saskatchewan. In a country so self-congratulatory about its compassion, this seems unpardonable.

Meanwhile, we Canadians congratulate ourselves for our generosity while simultaneously sneering at the poor on the grounds that they’re not really poor and could better themselves by simply getting jobs any time.

But according to Food Banks Canada, more than 10 per cent of those turning to food banks to feed their children already have jobs.

Another 6.6 per cent are pensioners.

Another 15 per cent are disabled. Almost six per cent are going hungry on employment insurance while they look for work.

And should they be unsuccessful and fall onto social assistance, more than half of them will have to start visiting a food bank in order to eat.

Food banks were launched as an emergency stop gap. Yet for all the good work done by food banks, the volunteers who run them and the citizens who support them, this approach is failing.

Food banks are now an institutionalized excuse for the state to off-load its fundamental duty to all its citizens -that they be adequately fed.

Food Banks Canada reports that 35 per cent of food banks ran out of supplies last year and that 50 per cent were forced to reduce food provided to desperate households.

This is simply inexcusable.

We need to devise a workable strategy for ensuring that everybody in this extraordinarily wealthy country has enough to eat and if we must force dithering leaders to the discussion, so be it.

If our economic model can’t achieve that modest goal, expect increasing numbers of hungry people to start asking -as they are in Egypt -what’s the point of having that model if it doesn’t work?

Stephen Hume writes for the Vancouver Sun. shume@islandnet.com

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