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

Abstract

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.

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    In their 2013 HungerCount, Food Banks Canada reported that most agencies tried to provide clients with five days’ worth of food per month, but in that same report they noted that 38% of food banks were forced to cut back on the amount of food that they gave clients and 8% turned people away at times because they did not have enough food (Food Banks Canada 2013).

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Acknowledgements

The authors would like to acknowledge that the study builds on an earlier, unpublished analysis of the Canadian Household Panel Survey Pilot by Michael Ornstein.

Funding

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

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Correspondence to Valerie Tarasuk.

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Tarasuk, V., Fafard St-Germain, AA. & Loopstra, R. The Relationship Between Food Banks and Food Insecurity: Insights from Canada. Voluntas 31, 841–852 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11266-019-00092-w

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Keywords

  • Food insecurity
  • Food banks
  • Household resources
  • Canada