The cost of feeding a family of four in Eastern Ontario rose 10 per cent between 2015 and 2016, according to the Eastern Ontario Health Unit (EOHU). The EOHU did a survey including grocery stores in Prescott and Russell, Stormont, Dundas and Glengarry, and Cornwall, and found feeding a family of four for a month costs $841.

Lysanne Trudeau, Manager of the Chronic Diseases Program for the EOHU, said eight grocery stores in the area were surveyed. The results indicate one in eight households in Eastern Ontario can’t afford enough food. Trudeau said there has been a noticeable increase in the price of fruits and vegetables, especially. She also said in general, food prices can be higher in rural areas. The survey is done in May, for example, when local food options are slim and not included in the survey, she said.

Trudeau said in homes with insufficient income, it can be easier to cut back on food than on electricity or rent, for example. “What we have seen is a lot of times, what happens is families that have children, children will be fed, we hope, but the parents will go without eating because they want their children to eat. And that’s very sad.”

The health unit is advocating for a drastic change to the way social security programs work. “Everybody should have a minimum income that would cover your expenses,” said Trudeau. Ontario is working on a pilot project to test minimum income. The idea is everyone within a certain age group would receive a monthly income – a recent discussion paper prepared for the Ontario government suggested at least $1,320 for one person. Minimum income as a solution to food insecurity can be contrasted with food banks, for example, said Trudeau. “Food banks are really wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but it’s a band-aid solution to a big problem. Because, it helps for a little while, but it’s not something that’s sustainable. You know, if we want people to be able to afford food, it’s not with food banks that that’s going to happen,” she said.

The 67 foods included in the survey are specified by the province and include meat, dairy, and fruits and vegetables, with few processed items. The cheapest option is recorded, and products like margarine and canola oil are included instead of higher-priced alternatives like butter and olive oil. Health units across Ontario participate in the survey. Not every area saw a 10 per cent jump in the cost of healthy food: Toronto Public Health, for example, reported buying healthy food in the city cost $858 for a family of four in 2016, about 1.4 per cent increase over 2015. The Leeds, Grenville and Lanark District Health Unit found feeding a family of four cost $871, about a 3 per cent increase over 2015.