Recently TVO’s The Agency, with Steve Paikin, interviewed Feeding My Family group founder, Leesee Papatsie, about the issues surrounding food affordability in the north.

Feeding My Family is a group that works to raise awareness of the high costs of food in Nunavut.

A Nunavut government report says half of youths aged 11 – 15 years old in Nunavut, sometimes go to bed hungry, and that the food that is available, is not aways the best for them.

Leesee Papatsie explains that traditionally, the Inuit hunted their food. Store bought foods have been introduced into the diet within the last 50 years. These foods are new to the northern diet. Some do not know how to cook these new foods, so instead, they rely on easy-to-cook foods which are often the lesser nutritious foods.

Wildlife continues to be a big part of the Inuit diet. Country foods, and the culture of sharing food, are thought to be the reason why there has not been any starvation in the north.

Harvesting country food is also facing challenges. Hunting is very expensive and it is a skill that some have lost. Climate change is also impacting wildlife and accessing hunting grounds can be challenging.

The Federal Government’s solution to the high costs of groceries is the Nutrition North program. Nutrition North provides a subsidy on shipping costs on some foods shipped to Canada’s north. Health Canada defines which foods are subsidized based on their nutrition guidelines. Unfortunately some of the food items that Health Canada defines as nutritious, are unfamiliar and do not fit the traditional diet of Northeners.

Canada’s Auditor General recently found several concerns with the Nutrition North program including that it lack transparency. This means the program could actually be contributing to a business bottom line instead of reducing grocery costs.

Leesee Papatsie suggests some initiatives that would be helpful to address issues of food in the north:

  1. Regulate Pricing of grocers in the North – Northern communities tend to have fewer store options which makes them vulnerable to potential price gauging.
  2. Review Nutrition North program and subsidize foods that fit diet needs of Northeners.
  3. Canadians can write Members of Parliament to ask that more be done to lower costs of foods in the north and to make them aware of the practise of selling expired foods.
  4. Encourage Northeners to speak up. It is the Inuit culture not to go against the grain. Speaking out is new, but is slowly beginning to change.

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Taye Newman

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