Food Access and Food Insecurity
York Region is involved in a variety of programs and partnerships to improve food access, strengthen our local food system, improve the environment as well as affect food insecurity which negatively impacts the physical and mental health of children, youth and adults.
More information on both food access and food insecurity can be found below.
Everyone should have access to healthy, safe, affordable and culturally appropriate food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences. This benefits the physical and mental health of residents and communities.
Access and availability to food is affected by our local and global food systems.
Food systems include:
- Food production (e.g., agriculture, land protection)
- Marketing and retail
- Cooking and eating
- Food waste management
York Region Public Health works to promote a sustainable, local food system that will give our community ongoing access to food today and into the future.
Food access and availability can be affected by the built environment in our community. The built environment includes the human-made design and layout of the communities in which people live, learn, work and play. It can impact our access to healthy food, physical activity, and connecting with others. It is important the built environment be designed to support healthy lifestyles, such as reducing the need for cars and where activities like walking, cycling and public transit can meet our daily needs.
The built environment is shaped by Provincial, Regional and Municipal plans and policies, which guide how land resources are managed. Check out the York Region Official Plan to learn more about how the Region is building healthy, complete communities.
Dietitians and Regional staff support a healthy, built environment with a sustainable, local food system by:
- Reviewing Provincial, Regional and Municipal official strategies, plans and policies to enhance the nutritional, economic and environmental health of individuals and communities
- Promoting local food and supporting agri-food programs such as, farmers markets and urban agriculture (e.g., community gardens) to strengthen the local economy and food literacy
- Protecting the environment by promoting plant-based foods and strategies to reduce food waste
- Improving food environments (e.g., workplaces, recreation centres where food is sold/served) to ensure healthy foods are available
- Teaching people about food, how it’s grown and how to prepare healthy meals and snacks
- Promoting equal rights and opportunities and income-based solutions (e.g., increasing social assistance rates) to address food insecurity
To learn more about what affects our access to food in York Region, visit the Building Healthy Communities Food Access Fact Sheet.
Local food and food programs in York Region
York Region’s agri-food sector includes more than 600 farms and more than 270 food and beverage manufacturers and distributors that contribute to the Region’s economic vitality.
In 2017, York Regional Council approved the Agriculture and Agri-Food Sector Strategy to ensure that agriculture and local food remains a focus in York Region. The strategy was developed in consultation with local municipalities and the York Region Agriculture and Agri-Food Advisory Committee. One of the guiding principles is to ensure a secure, safe food supply by encouraging local food production, farmers’ markets and field-to-table initiatives. Stay up-to-date with the latest news and resources about the Region’s diverse agri-food sector.
York Region farmers and the agricultural sector support access to local food for residents. Local farming helps residents learn more about the food they are eating, where it comes from and how it is grown.
Food programs like community gardens, can make healthy, fresh food more accessible to York Region residents.
Find food programs and local food in your community:
- The York Farm Fresh Map provides locations of local farms and farmers markets. Check out the mobile app, available in English and seven other languages
- Community gardens offer York Region residents the opportunity to grow their own food, no matter their level of gardening ability and make connections with other gardeners. Check out the links below for information on community gardens in your area:
- The Good Food Box is available to all York Region residents. Customers order and receive a box of affordable fresh fruits and vegetables available for pick up from the York Region Food Network (YRFN) and satellite sites
- Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) programs connect farmers with consumers and are a great way to get fresh local foods
- York Region Food Network (YRFN) offers programs and education to ensure the people of York Region have healthy and sustainable food
- The Up Your Life: Living on a Limited Budget in York Region booklet provides information to residents who have financial limitations. The booklet includes a listing of food banks and community meal programs
Food and the Environment
Replacing some meat in your diet with plant-based food is not only healthier for you, but can also help the environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 2019 EAT Lancet Commission Report states that food production is responsible for about 25% or more of greenhouse gas emissions and uses about 70% of the global fresh water supply. To help reduce the impact on the environment and improve your health, choose a sustainable diet. Eat more sustainably by:
- Eating more plant-based foods
- Growing your own food, when possible
- Reducing your food waste
- Limiting your consumption of ultra-processed foods
- Including tap water as the drink of choice
Shift to a more plant-based sustainable diet
Animal based proteins – especially red meat – consume more resources and increase greenhouse gas emissions. Eating more plant-based foods (e.g., vegetables, fruit, legumes (beans, peas, and lentils), nuts and seeds) will reduce the amount of land clearing required for animals, the amount of water used and greenhouse gas emissions produced. Including more plant-based foods can also be less expensive than diets which include a lot of meat. Choosing less meat also aligns with Canada’s Food Guide recommendations to eat plant-based proteins more often, without necessarily excluding animal foods altogether. Try eating lots of different types of vegetables and fruit by making them at least half of your plate at every meal.
Here are some ways to include plant-based foods in your diet:
|Vegetables and fruit
Enjoy a variety of colourful vegetables and fruits. Frozen, canned, and dried produce are just as nutritious as the fresh options. Canned vegetables can be added to casseroles, stews and soups. Dried fruit like apples, mangos, apricots, and raisins make a delicious addition to cereal or for snacks and frozen fruit is great for smoothies.
Dried or canned, they are all good. Try vegetarian chili with kidney beans, hummus with chick peas or a salad with beans. Quick Chickpea Pasta is a low-cost meal, that uses few basic pantry staples and is full of flavour!
A handful of any type of nut (e.g., almonds, peanuts, walnuts) is a quick and easy snack. As well, peanut or other nut butters are great on whole grain bread, toast or crackers.
|Tofu and fortified soy beverages
Whole grains (e.g., whole wheat bread, brown rice, quinoa, barley, oats and buckwheat) are grains that have undergone the least amount of processing. Swap out your white bread and rice for whole grain breads and brown or wild rice. Try this quinoa and vegetable casserole or beet and barley salad.
Grow your own food
There are plenty of reasons to grow your own food. Gardening gets you outside in the fresh air, helps to reduce stress, build muscle and bone strength and is good for your mental well-being.
You don’t have to be an expert gardener to grow food. You can join a local community garden or grow one in your own backyard. You will need the basics like soil, sun, and water – and a little patience. There are many types of foods that can grow well in your garden, and you don’t need a lot of space – a small spot in your backyard, up a fence, in a container, or a planter on your balcony will do. If you have space, add a composter to use your garden waste to build your soil.
Herbs: Herbs like oregano, basil and thyme don’t need a lot of space but love the sun. They are great fresh, but you can also dry them to use all year round.
Vegetables: Many vegetables can grow in your garden. Sun-seeking vegetables include tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, and peppers. Shade-loving vegetables include lettuce, beets, kale, peas and radishes.
Fruits: Fruits tend to need a bit more care than vegetables in the garden. Some of the easiest fruits to grow are strawberries, raspberries and currants.
Gardening can help you save money and is a great way to develop some new food skills and learn how food is grown.
Wasted food is a problem we can solve. By keeping good food from going to waste, we can help fight climate change together, save our natural resources, and build sustainable communities.
In 2022, the National Zero Waste Council found that 63% of the food Canadians threw away could have been eaten. This is like throwing away at least $1,300 per household, per year! And not only does food waste cost money, but, if it goes to the landfill, it generates greenhouse gases. Throwing food out also means we are wasting the water and energy resources that were used to grow, produce, transport, and distribute the food, further impacting our environment.
Preventing food from being wasted will reduce your impact on the environment. According to Love Food Hate Waste, every tonne of household food waste that is avoided, is equal to taking one car off the road each year!
York Region is committed to reducing food waste, as outlined in its Integrated Waste Management Master Plan which includes supporting a circular economy. The goal of a circular economy is to eliminate waste and pollution, so the resources needed to make products and packaging are reused, rather than used once and discarded. One of York Region’s circular economy initiatives is the Good Food Program. This program provides tools to help you reduce your food waste by making new meals with leftovers. This program also provides tips for meal planning, shopping, storing food properly and buying the right amounts to avoid purchasing more food than is needed.
While we try to eliminate food waste, we do realize it is not fully avoidable. Composting is another great way to create circularity in your household by providing a place for your food waste, like the peels and ends of fruits and vegetables. Adding your yard clippings helps make a natural, nutrient-rich food for your soil. It also reduces the need for fertilizer and decreases greenhouse gas emissions by keeping your food waste out of the garbage.
Check out York Region’s Composting and Green Bin Program to help you set up a backyard composter and create nutrient rich food for your garden.
To learn more about how you can reduce food waste at home, visit:
- Love Food Hate Waste for delicious recipes and practical tips on reducing food waste
- Ontario Food Collaborative brings together specialists from government, not-for-profit agencies, academia and the food industry to work collaboratively on the shared vision of improving food literacy and reducing food waste in Ontario at the residential level
- #Letscook30 provides inspiration to cook more often. Find over 30 simple recipes as well as tips to use leftovers in new recipes to help reduce food waste
Limit your consumption of ultra-processed foods
Ultra-processed foods, like soft drinks, chips, candy, hot dogs, sugar-sweetened cereals, pastries and packaged soups contain many added ingredients and are very different from their original state. They go through many processing steps which increase the amount of energy and resources needed to produce them. And these foods often use a lot of packaging which adds to overall waste.
Ultra-processed foods and drinks are usually higher in sugar, salt, saturated fat and additives and do not contain the beneficial nutrients the body requires. Canada’s Food Guide suggests limiting these foods.
Include tap water as the drink of choice
Drinking enough water is important for our health. Water helps move nutrients through our body and is good for digestive, joint and heart health. In York Region, we are fortunate to have high-quality tap water that is safe, clean and affordable. Drinking tap water is a healthy, convenient, and environmentally friendly choice. Instead of reaching for a plastic water bottle, simply turn on the tap to quench your thirst. If you enjoy your water cold, keep a jug of cold water in the fridge or use a few ice cubes to cool your water instead of running the tap until the water is cold.
Check out these tips from Canada’s Food Guide to help you drink more water every day.
Food Access Resources
- Canada’s Food Guide
- Climate friendly Eating Resource
- Drawdown Dietetics
- Food Council
- Food Policy for Canada
- Government of Ontario Food and Organic Waste Framework
- Healthy Eating on a Budget
- Healthy Built Environment Linkages Toolkit
- Love Food Hate Waste
- The Good Food Program
- York Region Food Network
Talk to a Registered Dietitian
For free and confidential information on nutrition, call Health Connect Ontario at 8-1-1.
What is food insecurity?
Food insecurity is the inadequate or insecure access to food due to financial constraints - in other words, not having enough money to buy food.
Food security is the condition in which all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.
Hunger is often mistaken for food insecurity, but they are not one and the same.
People who live in food-insecure households may:
- Worry about running out of food
- Eat less nutritious meals
- Skip meals
- Go whole days without eating
Food insecurity is a serious public health issue negatively impacting physical and mental health. Adults living in food-insecure households have a higher risk of heart disease and high blood pressure. Food insecurity also makes children vulnerable to anxiety and depression.
Nutritious Food Basket
Each year York Region Public Health conducts the Nutritious Food Basket survey to monitor food affordability. The lowest prices for 61 food items are collected from nine grocery stores across York Region to calculate the monthly cost of healthy eating for families and individuals. To determine how affordable food is in York Region, the monthly cost of food is compared to rent in several income scenarios.
The Nutritious Food Basket survey reveals that for many low-income households in York Region healthy eating is not affordable. Read the Food Affordability in York Region: The 2022 Nutritious Food Basket Report to learn more about food affordability in York Region.
Addressing food insecurity
Food insecurity is not about a lack of food, it’s about a lack of income. To reduce food insecurity, research supports policies that improve income for households such as a living wage, basic income, and increasing social assistance rates.
Programs such as food banks and community meals provide short-term relief for those in need but cannot reduce food insecurity in a sustainable way.
Actions that individuals can take to address food insecurity include:
Learn more about food insecurity:
- Video: Household Food Insecurity in Canada, 2021 – PROOF
- It’s Not Just About Food – York Region Food Network
- Indigenous Food Insecurity - PROOF
- Fact Sheet Race and Food Insecurity – PROOF and FoodShare
- Position Statement and Recommendations on Responses to Food Insecurity - Ontario Dietitians in Public Health
Spread the word:
- Talk to your family and friends about the link between income and food insecurity.
- Share what you have learned on social media.
Volunteer or host a free tax clinic:
- Without filing for income tax many people won’t receive government benefits and aren't eligible for social assistance programs. Support your community by volunteering your time and skills at a Free Tax Clinic.
Partners and related information
York Region Food Network’s (YRFN) vision is Food for Health – Food for All. YRFN offers programs and education to ensure the people of York Region have healthy and sustainable food. YRFN is a regional hub for the promotion of food security, fostering collaborations and partnerships to create a healthy, accessible, and sustainable food system in York Region.
The York Region Food Council envisions communities where health and social justice are prioritized, and all residents have economic and physical access to healthy, local, culturally acceptable, and environmentally sustainable food. The York Region Food Council works towards this vision by building networks across the food system, conducting research on the York Region food system, educating through public events, advocating for policy changes that foster a healthy food system, and supporting the creation and implementation of food system initiatives.