Too many people in BC can't afford to eat healthily, finds report. Plus: Photo essay shows five ways people pinch food dollars.
It costs $868.42 per month on average to feed a family of four in British Columbia, according to the latest Cost of Eating report from the Dieticians of Canada.
That eats up about 15 per cent of the $67,200 that a median-income family in the province would earn — and much more for the one out of eight people who live below the poverty line.
The B.C. region of the Dieticians of Canada have produced the report every two years for the past decade. In 2009, the cost of a nutritious food basket for a family of four was actually slightly higher — $872 per month — than it was this year, but five years ago it was significantly lower: just $715 per month.
For a family receiving $1,851 in social assistance each month, this cost represents 47 per cent of their monthly income.
Kristen Yarker, executive director of the B.C. region of the Dieticians of Canada, says the report is a call to address poverty and the factors that keep people in poverty.
“We as dieticians care about people being able to eat healthfully and we see how so many people can’t afford to do that,” says Yarker. “This is our attempt to raise awareness.”
The $868.42 figure is averaged from the monthly cost of a nutritious food basket in each of the province’s health regions. In Vancouver Coastal Health region, for example, it’s actually $944 per month. In the Fraser Health region, it’s slightly lower at $851.
These figures are based on the price of about 60 items in a “nutritious food basket” determined by Health Canada that could feed two adults, a teenage boy and a four-year-old girl.
Not tallied: eating out, cost of getting to store
The cost does not include pre-packaged, take-out or restaurant meals. It doesn’t include spices or condiments, nor does it take into account special dietary needs or cultural food preferences.
Yarker also points out that the cost to get to a grocery store is not included in this assessment. The 2009 Cost of Food report found that in the average B.C. city, $16.05 would get you four litres of milk, one loaf of bread, one pound of apples and 10 pounds of potatoes. In a remote community, those items would cost $34.85, 177 per cent more.
The combination of higher food prices and fewer stores with fresh healthy options has been linked to higher rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes seen in B.C.’s northern and remote communities that are effectively food deserts.
Food prices jumped five per cent last year
Canadians spend less on food than many other developed countries and remain somewhat sheltered from fluctuating global food prices, like the 2009/2010 crisis that saw global commodity prices jump 40 to 60 per cent.
Still, according to the latest Consumer Price Index from Statistics Canada, Canadians paid 4.9 per cent more for food purchased from stores and 2.8 per cent more for food purchased from restaurants in January 2012 compared to the same period last year.
Eggs, ground beef, carrots and flour were among the grocery items that have increased the most in price over the past several years, according to Statistics Canada.
From 2008 to 2012, a dozen eggs went from $2.50 to $3.09; a kilogram of ground beef went from $5.84 to $8.85; a kilogram of carrots went from $1.22 to $1.63; and 2.5 kilograms of flour went from $3.91 to $5.18.
Yarker didn’t offer any money-saving tips. “This report shows how even using those creative ways [to stretch your food dollar], people can’t make ends meet,” she says. “We need to create a provincial poverty reduction plan. All of us who are voters can be talking to our elected officials.”