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Reflecting on food insecurity in Canada!

Child and parent cooking

Reflections on our five-year anniversary and the state of hunger in Canada by Michael McCain and Lynda Kuhn.

Michael McCain … my life has always revolved around food. When I was young, I worked in the potato fields near my home in New Brunswick. I joined McCain Foods right after university and Maple Leaf Foods in 1995. The food sector has been good to my family and to all of us at Maple Leaf Foods. It provides us with meaningful careers, making good food that nourishes millions of families.

So, it never sat right with me that so many Canadians lack the basic security of being able to feed themselves and their families. This was the start of the journey back in 2014 – to create an organization that would make a lasting, positive impact on food insecurity in Canada. We wanted to go well beyond “food relief” by bringing our resources and business skills to help solve this complex social issue.

I’ve learned a lot since we founded the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security in late 2016. We know more than ever that food will not solve food insecurity; the source of the issue is poverty along with geographic isolation, health, social and knowledge barriers. We are tackling all of these with research, collaboration, investment and advocacy.

Working collaboratively, we are striving to engage Canadians and reduce food insecurity

In December, we are celebrating the 5th anniversary since we launched the Centre. We’ve forged deep relationships with thought leaders in food security work. We’ve committed over $8 million in 24 initiatives that span coast-to-coast. We’ve led advocacy work with government and awareness raising campaigns to engage Canadians and drive action.

I’m so incredibly proud of our work and the impact we’re starting to have. We approached this social issue with humility and an openness to learn. We’ve built trust among others that we are in this for the long term and committed to deep change, not just food donations. This is not the usual work of a big, food company and the Centre is leading the way to engage other private sector partners. We have so much expertise that we can provide – taking business skills and approaches to solving complex issues. It can be a game changer for our partners, and we always learn from them.

Lynda Kuhn …doing work that advances social justice is in my blood. I began my career working in First Nations communities, which led to community development work in rural Cape Breton, co-founding an education and leadership program in Kenya, and a winding road to Maple Leaf Foods, where I have the honour of Chairing the Centre for Action on Food Security.

It’s hard to do this from the isolation of a home office, so I have recently started volunteering with a local Community Food Centre and food bank. Along with big picture work, I need the direct connection to people and programs on the ground that we support.

Food security programs in Canada

People are greeted with a smile and offered a delicious take-out meal – a temporary situation with COVID-19, the plan is that indoor dining will start again in the spring.

One woman I see often lives alone with her adult son who has multiple disabilities. Yet, she always has time for a chat and to learn new cooking tips! Some are newcomers to Canada and feel so happy to be here and shown the hospitality that the Community Food Centre provides. Some are teens picking up supper for their families. The menu for the evening is on display, along with all the ingredients and sometimes even a recipe that they can try for themselves. There are cooking classes, group sessions to discuss oppression and trauma, fun events for kids. Taken together, they build community, reduce the social isolation that often results from poverty, and build skills and knowledge. Food is the great connector. It’s way more than just meeting a physical need. It feeds the soul.

Driving change

These are our neighbours and this is some of the work that the Centre supports. The pandemic has exposed how vulnerable many in our society are; the fine line between getting by and having to make an impossible choice between paying the rent or feeding your family. We need to continue to advocate for change so that no one needs to rely on charity to access the food they need.  That is why the Centre works across sectors and with governments to drive collaboration and progress.

I find it unconscionable that in Canada, one in six of our children live with food insecurity.  We are asking the Government of Canada to set a target to reduce food insecurity in half by 2030 and you can help.  If you, like me, believe that we need action, click here to send a letter to your Member of Parliament.   

Michael McCain is President and Chief Executive Office at Maple Leaf Foods and Honorary Chairman at the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security.

Lynda Kuhn is Senior Vice-President at Maple Leaf Foods and Chair of the Maple Leaf Centre for Action on Food Security.