The Relationship Between Food Banks and Food Insecurity: Insights from Canada

  • Valerie TarasukEmail author
  • Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain
  • Rachel Loopstra
Original Paper


Food banks have become the first line of response to problems of hunger and food insecurity in affluent nations. Although originating in the USA, food banks are now well established in Canada, Australia, and some Nordic countries, and they have rapidly expanded in the UK and other parts of Europe in the past two decades. Defined by the mobilization of food donations and volunteer labor within communities to provide food to those in need, food banks are undeniably a response to food insecurity, but their relevance to this problem is rarely assessed. We drew on data from the 2008 Canadian Household Panel Survey Pilot to assess the relationship between food bank use and household food insecurity over the prior 12 months and examine the interrelation between food-insecure households’ use of other resource augmentation strategies and their use of food banks. We found that most food-insecure households delayed bill payments and sought financial help from friends and family, but only 21.1% used food banks. Food bank users appeared to be more desperate: They had substantially lower incomes than food-insecure households who did not use food banks and were more likely to seek help from relatives and friends and other community agencies. Our findings challenge the current emphasis on food charity as a response to household food insecurity. Measures are needed to address the underlying causes of household food insecurity.


Food insecurity Food banks Household resources Canada 



The authors would like to acknowledge that the study builds on an earlier, unpublished analysis of the Canadian Household Panel Survey Pilot by Michael Ornstein.


This research was funded by a programmatic grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) (FRN 115208).

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Supplementary material

11266_2019_92_MOESM1_ESM.docx (14 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 13 kb)


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Copyright information

© International Society for Third-Sector Research and The Johns Hopkins University 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Valerie Tarasuk
    • 1
    Email author
  • Andrée-Anne Fafard St-Germain
    • 1
  • Rachel Loopstra
    • 2
  1. 1.Department of Nutritional Sciences, Faculty of MedicineUniversity of TorontoTorontoCanada
  2. 2.Division of Diabetes and Nutritional SciencesKing’s College LondonLondonUK

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