Grapes at a Nunavut store in January. (Photo via Facebook)
A couple of grocery bags in Canada's Far North costs Niore Iqalukjuak a cool $300."I tried to purchase bacon this morning but I took it back because I didn't want to pay $26 for bacon," the resident of Clyde River, Nunavut told VICE News Thursday.It's not just bacon that's so expensive. Grapes, for example, are about $26 to $28 a bunch, or for 1.5 pounds.By contrast, in downtown Toronto, some 1,900 miles due south, grapes can be found for as low as $4 to $5 a bunch, and bacon can cost about $6 a package.
Food has never been cheap in northern Canadian communities like Clyde River, where perishables like fruits and vegetables need to be flown in, but lately things are getting worse."It has gotten more expensive, no question about that," Iqalukjuak tells VICE News.The latest price hike appears to be partly due to the drooping loonie and poor quality of produce from the frost and drought-struck southern US, where some Canadian produce comes from in the winter."We've fought to be more equal to the rest of Canada in terms of purchasing food or other items, but there seems to be an invisible border somewhere that once you cross that line, the cost of food or merchandise doubles or triples in cost," Iqalukjuak says.A new study released by the University of Toronto funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research confirms the problem is getting worse. "Food insecurity was most prevalent in Canada's North, especially Nunavut, and the Maritimes in 2014. In Nunavut and the Northwest Territories, the prevalence rose to the highest levels observed since monitoring began in 2005 — 46.8 percent and 24.1 percent [of the population] respectively."In Nunavut in 2013 and 2014, the study found, 60 percent of children lived in "food insecure households" — a definition that ranges from homes where people are worried about running out of food to those where they go days without food.
Children who go hungry are more likely to experience asthma and depression, the study said, and for adults, their physical and mental health are likely to suffer and they will experience higher rates of depression, diabetes and heart disease.
The numbers are so bad that the study's authors say they "suggest a state of emergency" that demands attention by the provincial, territorial and federal levels of government.For people who can't afford food in Clyde River, there used to be a small food bank. But a lack of funds means they don't always have food to give out, Iqalukjuak said. When people in his community become desperate, some will go on the radio to ask if people have leftovers to spare, and most of the time people will give them food."It's part of life up here and it's not uncommon," he told VICE News. "Having a roof to sleep under is sometimes more important than having to feed yourself."The study's lead author called for concerted policy action.
"We've seen no substantiated decrease in rates across the country over the past couple of years, despite poverty reduction strategies in many provinces," the study's lead author Valerie Tarasuk said in a press release, according to CBC.Iqalukjuak, who was the mayor of Arctic Bay when the previous government announced it would tackle the problem, said the Conservative government's strategy didn't work."We have what is called the Nutrition North Program where the previous government replaced what was called the food mail program and what this program is intended to do is reduce the cost of nutritious food," he explained. "But for some reason it has not seemed to help in reducing the cost as the government pays the retail stores and then the retail store has its own power to price the food. So somehow things need to change."But he has no quick fix to offer lawmakers. "There are no easy solutions," he says.
'Having a roof to sleep under is sometimes more important than having to feed yourself.'
Follow Hilary Beaumont on Twitter: @hilarybeaumont